Personal lives

October 7, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 40 Comments 

Occasionally we are reminded that people in baseball are still people and they have actual lives as well. We get neat human interest stories like Steve Delabar and Tom Wilhelmsen. Sometimes the news is not so good, like with Smoak and Saunders each losing a parent in the past year. Fortunately for the players, baseball has made some progress in recent years in instituting policies for things like bereavement and paternity leave.

Often there’s an urge to try and read into these events an effect on someone’s performance, even though it’s impossible from the outside to know how people are being affected or predict how they will respond. On one hand, Smoak came back from his father’s funeral to hit some home runs and go on a bit of a hot streak, but afterward went into a prolonged slump over multiple months. Then again, at some point he hurt his thumbs too, which may have more to do with it. A lot of people basically gave Jose Lopez a pass for one really bad season due to some tragic family circumstances. Obviously, you sympathize with people in these situations on a personal level, but for evaluation purposes it’s basically a guessing game about whether something will carry over and how.

Along these lines, Geoff Baker has a story in the Seattle Times today that essentially boils down to “Chris Larson, the Mariners’ second-largest shareholder, is getting divorced.” Most of the implications it touches on – will he end up selling his stake, can he still make a capital call if the owners decide to boost payroll – are entirely speculative. We don’t even know that there will be a capital call, let alone what that means for Larson. Mind you, I’m not saying the story has no newsworthy information, there are some interesting details about team ownership and finances. And it’s not like the public will be told directly if there are changes in the team budget or ownership makeup, so we have to read the tea leaves using stories like this. But on some level, you have an unfortunate private matter being publicized simply because of someone’s position with the team.

So, the question I’m putting out there is, “What’s the point at which this kind of personal stuff is suitable for public discussion?” Some level of respect for privacy is still appropriate, surely, but these lines can be hard to draw. With Smoak and Saunders, reporters occasionally alluded to issues and it was kind of circulating in the rumor mill, but official confirmation only came when they actually left their teams (I believe Saunders was down in Tacoma when it happened). How do you react to this stuff, and does it affect your evaluation? For example, and I’m not in any way suggesting this is the case, but if Ichiro’s down season was being attributed to some major personal situation, would that make any difference in how you look at it? Also, should these issues be considered the same for owners and players, or are they distinct?

The Roster As It Stands

October 5, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 116 Comments 

Before we get too far into discussing what moves the team should be looking to make this winter, we need to take a realistic assessment of what talent is already on hand, both for 2012 and beyond, as the inventory already here will dictate where the organization should focus on acquiring upgrades. While the team has enough quantity in place to go forward with a “let the kids fight it out and see who wins” strategy, there’s not enough quality already in place to make that a viable strategy at every position. In reality, the M’s are going to have to make some decisions this winter about which of these kids should be part of the 2012 team, and at the positions where there isn’t a good solution internally, they’ll need to make some moves to bring in talent from the outside.

Given what’s already here, this is how I would view the team’s roster for next year in terms of reasonable expected amounts of playing time if the team is interested in putting a respectable team on the field.

Position – Player – Plate Appearances

Catcher: Empty
First Base: Justin Smoak – 600
Second Base: Dustin Ackley – 600
Shortstop: Brendan Ryan – 500
Third Base: Empty
Left Field: Casper Wells – 200
Center Field: Franklin Gutierrez – 600
Right Field: Ichiro Suzuki – 600
Designated Hitter: Mike Carp – 200

Reserve Catcher: Miguel Olivo – 250
Reserve 1B: Mike Carp – 100
Reserve MI: Luis Rodriguez – 200
Reserve IF: Kyle Seager – 200
Reserve OF: Casper Wells – 100

By my estimation, those 10 position players should be penciled in for approximately 4,100 plate appearances. A normal team gets about 6,100 plate appearances in a season, so the M’s are about 2,000 PA short. That’s basically three full-time players – no easy task to acquire in one off-season.

Looking at the chart above, it’s easy to see where the holes are. Catcher and third base are the biggest holes, and the only two options on the Major League roster are both better fits for a reserve role. Olivo’s a decent enough back-up and Seager could be a useful utility infielder who backs up everyone around the infield, but if either of them are starting on opening day next year, the team likely has a problem.

The other open position is something of a hybrid between LF/DH. Wells has enough talent to justify a job as the right-handed half of an LF platoon and could likely serve as the team’s backup in CF and RF, but he hasn’t shown enough to be expected to be a full-time player. The rest of the left fielders we saw on display this year belong in the minors next year, and I wouldn’t be comfortable giving any of them a job on the 2012 team at this point.

With Carp and Wells both penciled in for part-time jobs, the team could acquire one guy who could split time between LF and DH, and the three of them could essentially combine to handle those two positions. Knowing that they’d have some DH availability could give the team the flexibility to pursue a guy who might not be a great defender but has enough offense to make up for it.

If the team added three starting caliber players – one at C, one at 3B, and one at LF/DH – to that group of position players, you could actually have the makings of a decent group of talent.

Now, for the pitching.

#1 Starter – Felix Hernandez
#2 Starter – Michael Pineda
#3 Starter – Jason Vargas
#4 Starter – Empty
#5 Starter – Blake Beavan

Closer – Brandon League
RH Setup – Tom Wilhelmsen
LH Setup – Charlie Furbush
Middle – Shawn Kelley
Middle – Chance Ruffin
Middle – Josh Lueke
Long – Empty

Despite all the talk about pitching depth, the M’s actually have some problems on the pitching staff as well. Danny Hultzen and James Paxton are talented kids, and they might be options for the rotation in the second half of 2012, but you can’t count on them being able to carry a spot all season long. Behind Vargas, the team doesn’t really have any quality Major League starters, and they’ll likely need to add an starter this winter to fill out the rotation.

The bullpen could be mostly set except for one small fact – the team should be looking to trade Brandon League. Closers are generally overvalued, and headed into his final year before free agency, the M’s would be better off moving him and using his roughly $5 million salary elsewhere. Of course, they’re unlikely to hand the closer role over to any of the kids currently penciled into the setup roles right now, so moving League might necessitate a move for a reliever with a bit more experience who could be given the chance to close.

Put it all together, and the team is probably looking at needing to acquire a third baseman, a catcher, an LF/DH type, a starting pitcher, and maybe a solid reliever who they could make into a closer. Even if they move League and shed his salary, they’re still looking at something in the $20 million range in terms of budget flexibility, and they’d be looking at getting four players and a reliever for that.

Obviously, just targeting free agents and throwing money at them isn’t going to work – you can’t get four Major League regulars and a potential closer for $20 million on the open market. The only way to get that kind of quantity of talent from the outside is to focus on trading for players whose salaries are not set by public bidding. Of course, teams aren’t exactly looking to move their cost-controlled young stars, so the M’s will have to get creative to pick up players who can fill these holes without busting the budget.

Over the next week or so, I’ll talk about a few of the guys I’d like to see the team target who could fit that profile, and what types of players they might be able to land to fill those spots and stay under budget.

Arizona Fall League Kicks Off Today

October 4, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 8 Comments 

The Arizona Fall League kicks off today at 11:35 as the M’s prospects with the Peoria Javelinas take on the Salt River Rafters. Not sure who’s getting the start, but I’d expect to see Danny Hultzen fairly soon.

You’ve seen JY’s write-up of the M’s prospects involved so you know what to watch for: how will Danny Hultzen do against more advanced hitters swinging less advanced bats? Is Adam Moore still ambulatory, because M’s catchers put up a combined OBP of .252, and… well, semi-ambulatory will do. Chih-Hsien Chang’s true talent lies somewhere between the .439 wOBA he put up in the Red Sox system this year and the .236 he had with the M’s, but we’d all love to see some signs that it’s closer to the former than the latter.

The M’s are fortunate to have a member of their player development team coaching for Peoria. Tacoma hitting coach Alonzo Powell (who had the misfortune of attempting to coach the M’s for the second half of 2010) will have the same position for the Javelinas, meaning he’ll have a bit more time to work with guys he might see in 2012 like Chang and Nick Franklin. It’s just a few months, so it’s not like he’s going to transform anyone, but he’s a good instructor, and it might speed up the process a bit if he’s seen these guys face live pitching before they get to AAA.

As I mentioned before, player development is going to be absolutely critical for the M’s if they want to close the gap with Texas (and Anaheim). Beyond money (Seattle’s outspent Texas on MLB payroll every year since 2004), Texas has simply done a better job of turning raw talent into MLB wins. After graduating Michael Pineda and Dustin Ackley, the Rangers have the edge in minor league talent, so the M’s are going to have to get a lot more out of their talent than they have in the past. The AFL is a step in that process, and the M’s need to make something of it (like last year, when they used the AFL to get Dustin Ackley used to playing 2B).

Beyond Peoria, the team to keep an eye on is probably the Scottsdale Scorpions. They’ve got the Angels top prospects in Mike Trout and Jean Segura, the Giants last two first-rounders in speedster Gary Brown and shorstop Joe Panik (who I can’t believe isn’t a punk rock singer). Matt Purke, the lefty from TCU whose draft stock took a hit after an injury will make his pro debut, and they’ve also got some young outfielder named Bryce Harper. Ex-Mariner OF Tyson Gillies looks to get back on the field after injuries and a sketchy arrest kept him off the field for most of 2011.

Elsewhere, 2011 #1 pick Gerrit Cole will pitch for Mesa, and the A’s Grant Green will begin his transition from SS to outfield for Phoenix. The A’s also sent injury-plagued starter Tyson Ross to Arizona along with one of their top prospects, power-hitting OF Michael Choice who, predictably, loved hitting in the California League this year. This trio of Oakland prospects is about as talented as you’ll find, but they’ve all got quite a lot to prove. Ross has to show that his delivery won’t put too much stress on his oblique, Green has to show that he can play a new position and hit for more power than he did in 2011, and Choice has to show that he has fewer holes in his swing than Trayvon Robinson.

The stadia in Peoria and Surprise have pitch-fx installed, so we should get some great information on Hultzen’s velocity and repertoire fairly soon. The league scoreboard’s here, and you can follow along on gameday. The MLB playoffs have been pretty entertaining thus far, but if you’re eager to start looking forward, you’re in luck.

« Previous Page