Going On With Brock and Salk

November 16, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 26 Comments 

I’ll be reappearing on 710 ESPN with Brock and Salk today at 10:30. Given the post right below this and Salk’s preference for signing Prince Fielder, I’m pretty sure we can all guess what the topic is going to be.

Prince Fielder and Buying Wins

November 14, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 142 Comments 

This afternoon, Jon Heyman sent out the following message on Twitter:

#Mariners are hoping to be in on Prince (but not Pujols). Unsure if there’s room in budget though. But will give it a run.

As Jeff noted in more depth than I’ll get into, this is basically not news – it’s pretty clear that there are a lot of prices up to which the M’s would happily sign Prince Fielder. $1 million a year? Obviously. $10 million a year? They couldn’t sign fast enough. $15 million a year? Yeah, they’d do that.

Of course, none of that matters, because Fielder’s actual price is going to be far above any of those numbers. He turned down a 5 year, $100 million contract a year ago (and reportedly didn’t even bother countering), and that was before he had the best year of his career and became a free agent. If he thought he was worth more than $20 million per season as an arbitration eligible guy coming off an okay year, he’s not going to settle for anything close to that as a free agent coming off a really good year. The reality is that Fielder’s probably going to get $25+ million per year, and the only real question is how many years he’ll get at that price.

That brings us back to Heyman’s statement that the M’s are not sure they can fit him into the budget. I know for a lot of you, the answer is as simple as “increase the budget”, but let’s look at the reality of that kind of roster construction plan.

As we’ve noted, a team full of league minimum replacement level players would be expected to win about 43 games, so to be a legitimate contender, a team needs 45-50 WAR. Tampa Bay had the lowest WAR total (+46) of any of last year’s playoff teams, so reality bears this out. The going rate for a win in the free agent market is about +5 million per win, give or take a bit depending on position and skillset. If a team attempted to buy their entire roster through free agency with a goal of accumulating +50 WAR, they’d need a $250 million payroll in order to make the strategy work. If they were really clever and took advantage of market inefficiencies, getting lower cost relievers and finding value with good defensive players, they might be able to buy +50 WAR for $225 million. Regardless, you’d need some kind of monstrous payroll to build a good team exclusively through free agency.

That’s why no one does it, and every team uses free agency as a way to add supplementary talent to cost-controlled players who were developed internally – even the Yankees. Teams can afford to pay $5 million per win for a few players on the roster, but the more market-rate players you add, the more it forces you to come up with quality low-cost performers elsewhere in order to make that kind of roster construction work.

A payroll of about $100 million means that your entire roster needs to be producing at an average of $2 million per win. That’s about where the Mariners are now, and that $2 million per win total has to be the goal. If they signed Fielder to go along with Felix, they’d essentially have two guys returning an expected +11 wins for about $45 million, or right around $4 million per win for the pair. That would leave the team with about $50 million to get the other 39 wins, which is simply not a reasonable request. Unfortunately, a team with a payroll under $100 million simply can’t pay the going market rate for wins to two superstar players unless they have an absolutely crazy amount of cheap young quality talent already in place.

You know how many teams in baseball had two players making $20+ million per year in salary last year? Two – the Yankees (Rodriguez, Sabathia, and Teixeira) and the Phillies (Howard and Halladay). The Yankees had a team payroll of $207 million, while the Phillies came in at $166 million. This year, the Red Sox (Crawford and Gonzalez) will join the club, and their payroll is expected to be in the $165 million range as well.

Even if the Mariners added $30 million to their payroll and came in at $125 million, they’d still be far below the spending threshold that other teams have achieved before they’ve committed market rate salaries to multiple star players. If you have the kind of revenues that the Yankees and Red Sox have, there’s enough left over to fill out the roster with good players even after spending $5 million per win on a few spots, but for 90% of the teams in baseball, that’s simply not the case.

This isn’t an issue of the M’s ownership just needing to kick a bit more into the pot so the team can afford a player like Prince Fielder. The M’s already have a player like Prince Fielder – he’s from Venezuela and he’s pretty good at that whole pitching thing. They’re getting Felix at a discount over his market rate, but he’s still getting paid at the level of a star quality player.

You want a roster with both Felix and Fielder making the kind of money the market has set for their services? Well, then, you either need a $150+ million payroll, or you need the rest of the roster to be made up of amazing players developed through the farm system who are making a fraction of what they’re really worth.

The reality is the Mariners don’t have either of those things. There aren’t enough low-cost kids producing at high quality levels to allow the team the ability to pay the market rate for two premium talents, and the Mariners simply aren’t in a position to have a large enough payroll to justify setting aside $45 million of their budget towards paying the market rate for wins. There just wouldn’t be enough left over to put together a realistic contender around those two, even if you decided that you weren’t re-signing Ichiro after the season and were going to allocate all of his money to Fielder’s future salary.

If the M’s have $25 million to spend this winter, they can’t simply just buy five wins, which is about what you’d hope for from bringing in Fielder. This is a team that needs to get something more like 12 wins for every $25 million it spends, and while Ackley and Pineda give them enough wiggle room to make allowances for extra spending in places, the M’s simply don’t have enough Ackleys and Pinedas to give them the room to have both Felix and Fielder and a roster around them that can be a viable contender.

At $15 million, the M’s could make it work. If you really stretched it and found value elsewhere this winter, you could maybe make $20 million work. $25 million, though? Sorry, but it just doesn’t make sense. Fielder will get his money, but he shouldn’t get it from the Mariners.

ROY Award

November 14, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 10 Comments 

In about 10 minutes, the BBWAA is going to announce the winners of the AL and NL Rookie of the Year awards. Odds are pretty good the AL trophy will end up going to Ivan Nova, Jeremy Hellickson, or Mark Trumbo, while Dustin Ackley and Michael Pineda will get a token vote here or there.

Personally, I just don’t care. The results of the voting don’t matter to me at all. Ackley and Pineda were both better than whoever ends up getting the trophy, but it’s not like they were A-Rod in 1996 and the lack of recognition is going to go down as an historic screw job or anything. Pineda was excellent during the first half of the year and Ackley was excellent during the second half, but neither of them put together the kind of season that essentially demands that they be handed hardware at the end of it.

They had really good years. Other guys had less good years but are going to get rewarded because of antiquated measurements of performance. If that bothers you, you can make a pretty good case that either of them deserved to win it and have a pretty solid case on your side. Me? I just can’t get very worked up over it. Ackley and Pineda were really good – we know that, the world knows that, and whether the BBWAA voting reflects that or not, it doesn’t really change anything.

As expected, Pineda and Ackley finish a distant fifth and sixth respectively. Hellickson wins the award, Trumbo is second, Hosmer is third, and Nova is fourth. Ackley actually did get one first place vote. And now, on to things that matter.

’11 40-Man Preview Extravaganza

November 10, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 20 Comments 

It’s that time of the year again. Leaves are dropping, everything is pumpkin flavoured, Christmas music exists prematurely as something for people to either enjoy or loudly complain about, and I come back from the dead to tell you all about setting the 40-man (deadline: Nov. 18th) in advance of the Rule 5 draft. So! This year, we’re looking at ’07 HS draftees and int’l signings and ’08 college draftees. Thrilling, right? This is the last year we’re going to be dealing exclusively with Fontaine drafts and I’m curious to see how the new administration will prioritize their own picks, but for now, we have a large pile of players among whom there aren’t a whole lot of locks. I’ll note before we get into it that the contracts of some of the international players can get a little confusing in that it’s not always easy to tell if they’ve signed a 2007 contract or a 2008 contract. If guys like Francisco Martinez and Erasmo Ramirez are eligible (I’m at least pretty sure Erasmo isn’t), you can bet that they’ll be added, but I believe both would be due next year.

So let’s take a more exhaustive look than we need to at some names here:

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Dave’s Off-Season Plan, Part Two

November 8, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 125 Comments 

So, last week, I laid out my suggestion for an approach the team could take to add the impact bat that everyone wants to see on the roster. Of course, the specific hitter targeted very well might not be available, so I said I’d introduce another plan that worked off the assumption that Joey Votto couldn’t be acquired. This is that plan, though you’ll notice it goes in an entirely different direction.

Essentially, in looking at what kind of offensive upgrades are on the market this winter, I simply don’t like the various paths the team could take. Yes, they could throw a huge amount of money at Prince Fielder, but given the costs associated with winning a bidding war for his services and the risks associated with his future production, it’s simply not a strategy that I think would be in the organization’s best interests. Beyond Fielder (and Pujols, who also isn’t coming here), it’s not a very good market for hitters. And so, while everyone wants the team to focus on upgrading the offense, I’m going the other direction.

The team still has a built-in competitive advantage for left-handed pitchers in Safeco Field. Because of how the park plays, LHPs garner a significant benefit from signing in Seattle, and the team can get a better return on investment from investing in left-handed pitching than just about any other type of player. There actually are some talented LHPs on the market this winter, and given the benefits the Mariners can offer southpaws, getting them to sign here is less challenging than trying to convince a power hitter.

So, this plan allocates most of the Mariners money this winter to rebuilding the pitching staff, and gives the team the opportunity to have one of the best run prevention units in baseball. It doesn’t do as much to fix the glaring problems on offense, but unfortunately, I’m not sure I see many good paths to do that this winter. Instead, by building out a potentially top-shelf pitching staff, the team sets themselves up to try to repeat the success of teams like the 2010 Padres. The goal – have the best pitching in the league and an offense that’s close enough to average to win enough low scoring games to contend.

I know people are tired of this kind of roster construction, and just want to see some people who can hit the baseball a long ways. But, forcing yourself down that path regardless of the wisdom of pursuing the available options is a great way to make mistakes that could hurt the franchise long term. Instead, the organization essentially kicks the can on the offense down the road, giving them further time to evaluate the young hitters that finished the season as regulars, and gives them enough pitching depth to make moves to acquire offense either in July or next winter, when better paths to rebuilding the offense arise and the team has a better feel for which guys already in the organization are part of the solution or not.

It’s the kind of off-season that likely wouldn’t be very popular in Seattle, but it would give the team enough talent to be respectable in 2012 while figuring out just how many of the offensive question marks can be useful pieces in the long term. This plan is more of a continue-to-evaluate option than an attempt to drastically upgrade the offense, but I’d prefer to see the team exercise patience than risk the long term viability of the franchise by going for a quick fix that just may not be possible.

With all that said, here is how the Mariners could spend the cash they have available this winter while keeping their options open going forward.


Sign LHP Chris Capuano to a 2 year, $12 million contract.

Sign RHP Frank Francisco to a 1 year, $5 million contract.

Sign LHP Erik Bedard to a 1 year, $4 million contract.

Sign OF/DH Ryan Doumit to a 1 year, $4 million contract.

Sign C Chris Snyder to a 1 year, $3 million contract.

The money gets spread around rather than spent in one place, but Capuano gets the largest share of the available cash. I advocated the team sign him last winter too, when he was significantly cheaper, but all of the reasons for signing him that were true a year ago are true again. His inflated ERA will keep his price down relative to his actual talent levels, and with Safeco Field helping to alleviate his HR problems, he could be a pretty terrific pitcher for the Mariners.

The other largest chunk of change goes to a relief pitcher, which is probably a bit surprising given our insistance that teams can build a bullpen on the cheap without having to pay market rates for them. However, Francisco likely won’t be looking at a multi-year contract due to his home run problems, and on a one year deal, he’s the kind of guy that the team could get value from, especially if League ended up being traded for offense early in the season.

I talked about Bedard and Snyder last week, so we’ll mostly just skip over their places on the roster. That leaves Ryan Doumit as the final free agent signing, and unfortunately, as the guy who would receive most of the attention as the offensive upgrade of the winter.

You’ll notice first off that Doumit is not listed as a catcher – I’d ask him to turn in his catcher’s gear and transition to a OF/DH full-time. He’s not a good receiver anyway, and the wear and tear of catching has led to many of his health problems. Moving him out from behind the plate would hopefully keep him healthier and offer the potential for better offensive performance than he’s historically had, as there’s evidence that the rigors of catching hold down a player’s production at the plate. He’s unlikely to repeat the .360 wOBA he posted last year, but his offensive performance would likely be maximized by having him play the outfield, and he’d give the team an above-average switch-hitter with some power. He’s not any kind of life-saver, but he’d be a relatively low cost offensive upgrade and give the team some positional flexibility with the rest of the roster.

With those moves in place, the final roster would look like this.

The Roster

Position Name PA/IP WAR Salary
C Chris Snyder 300 1 $3,000,000
1B Justin Smoak 600 2 $450,000
2B Dustin Ackley 600 3 $1,500,000
SS Brendan Ryan 500 1.5 $1,750,000
3B Kyle Seager 500 1.5 $450,000
LF Ryan Doumit 400 1.5 $4,000,000
CF Franklin Gutierrez 600 2.5 $5,813,000
RF Ichiro Suzuki 600 2 $18,000,000
DH Mike Carp 500 1 $450,000
C Miguel Olivo 300 0.5 $3,750,000
IF Luis Rodriguez 200 0.5 $450,000
IF Chone Figgins 300 0.5 $9,000,000
OF Casper Wells 400 1 $450,000
SP Felix Hernandez 220 6 $19,200,000
SP Michael Pineda 180 3.5 $450,000
SP Chris Capuano 180 2.5 $6,000,000
SP Jason Vargas 180 2.5 $4,000,000
SP Erik Bedard 120 2 $4,000,000
CL Brandon League 60 1 $5,000,000
RP Frank Francisco 60 1 $5,000,000
RP Tom Wilhelmsen 60 0.5 $450,000
RP Shawn Kelley 60 0.5 $450,000
RP Charlie Furbush 60 0.5 $450,000
RP Josh Lueke 60 0.5 $450,000
RP Blake Beavan 120 0 $450,000
Total     39 $94,963,000

Adding Doumit to the mix gives the team the ability to have 1B/DH/LF shared between two switch-hitters, a left-hander, and a right-hander – it’s setup well for Smoak, Carp, Doumit, and Wells to be placed in positions where they could perform the best, and then it’s just up for them to hit well enough to justify their spots in the line-up. The offense would essentially depend on those four providing power, and would sink or swim based on the level of production the team got from those players.

If they produce, and the team gets enough on-base ability from the likes of Ackley, Seager, and Gutierrez, the offense could be not-horrible, and the pitching staff would be among the best in baseball. Of course, we’ve seen that kind of plan go wrong the last couple of years, so there’s obvious risks associated with this type of strategy. However, it gives the team a chance at respectability in 2012, gives the team more time to evaluate the young talent already in house, and preserves the flexibility needed to make a move for a premium hitter should the right opportunity arise. With a strong, deep pitching staff, the team would be setup well to move pitching for hitting this summer, whether it’s dealing from the Major League roster if the team wasn’t a contender or moving from the supply of arms at the minor league level if they found themselves as buyers.

It’s not a flashy winter, but it’s a practical one that gives the team options and lets them continue along the path to rebuilding from within. It would require more patience from fans, but if a guy like Votto is out of reach, than staying the course is probably the best plan for the organization this winter.

One Last Thing On Votto

November 4, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 57 Comments 

Why teams pay for wins on a linear scale. We’ll have a Votto-free plan up on Monday, so if you’re in “the Reds will never trade him” camp, sit tight until then.

If you want to keep crowing about how stupid I am, well, at least read the link first, okay?

Dave’s 2012 Off-Season Plan (Part One)

November 2, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 184 Comments 

So, I’ve been rolling these posts out every winter for about a decade now, but this year, I’m actually doing two of these posts. As you’ve probably gathered from my musings over the last few months, I’m of the opinion that the M’s should target a certain first baseman from the Cincinnati Reds this winter, and make acquiring him priority #1. However, there is the potential reality that the Reds just might not be willing to trade him, even if the Mariners put together an extremely strong offer in order to try to change their minds.

The moves in this post are all predicated upon the fact that the M’s could potentially acquire Joey Votto. The roster below really only works if he’s on it, and the rest of the moves were made with the assumption that he’s now anchoring the team’s offense. If he’s not on it, different moves would have to be made. So, we’re doing two Off-Season Plan plan posts this year – one where Votto can be had and one where he can’t. In this scenario, he can be. We’ll deal with Plan B next week.

On to the moves, many of which I’ve tried to lay the groundwork for in prior posts.


Trade RHP Michael Pineda, RHP Brandon League, OF Greg Halman, 3B Chone Figgins (with Seattle absorbing $16 of remaining $17 million on Figgins’ contract), and SS Carlos Triunfel to Cincinnati for 1B Joey Votto and C Yasmani Grandal.

Trade 1B Mike Carp to Milwaukee for 3B Casey McGehee and RHP Marco Estrada.

Trade OF Michael Saunders and RHP Dan Cortes to Florida for RHP Chris Volstad.

Trade LHP Cesar Jimenez to New York for OF Angel Pagan.

Sign Chris Snyder to a 1 year, $3 million contract.

Sign Erik Bedard to a 1 year, $4 million contract.

Sign Jamie Moyer to a 1 year, $500,000 contract.

The big move is obviously the Votto acquisition. The team pays a high price by surrendering Pineda+ to get him, but when you’re trying ta acquire MVP-caliber talent, you have to put a knockout package on the table. With the pitching staff taking a hit to bring Votto in, many of the other moves are made to replenish the depth lost in the main deal.

Carp is an expendable piece whose strong second half would likely fetch a couple of solid role players in retrun. With Prince Fielder on his way out, the Brewers could use a power hitting left-handed first baseman, and they’re not likely to let Mat Gamel come to spring training without competition for the job. Estrada is an interesting arm who Wedge may should be comfortable giving the closer’s title to out of spring training, but could potentially move into a rotation role if Tom Wilhelmsen proves ready for 9th inning duty at some point during the summer. McGehee gives the team flexibility at third base and a right-handed bat with some power that they’re lacking.

Volstad essentially replaces Pineda in the rotation, as the M’s get another young hurler with problems against LHBs, though the upside is substantially lower. The Marlins would almost certainly part with their frustrating young hurler, and Saunders and Cortes both offer enough tools to sell as change-of-scenery upside buys for Florida.

Pagan is a perfect complement to Casper Wells in left field and offers a legitimate alternative to Franklin Gutierrez if his health continues to be a problem. The M’s can offer Jimenez and his always intriguing K rates from an LHP to the Mets to convince them to tender him a contract rather than putting him out on the free agent market in December.

Finally, the team finishes with three one year contracts to health risk free agents, adding depth and some upside without parting with much cash. Snyder offers a decent approach at the plate and sets up a job-share at catcher. Bedard returns to the friendly confines of Safeco Field to once again try to spend more than half a season on the mound and rebuild some value. Moyer comes back to the place he was most successful to try to sustain his career. For relative peanuts, the team gets three guys who may not be workhorses, but offer intriguing possibilities for when they are on the field and give the team depth at positions of weakness.

That collection of moves, combined with the remaining talent already in the organization, gives us the following team.

The Roster

Position Name PA/IP WAR Salary
C Chris Snyder 300 1 $3,000,000
1B Joey Votto 600 6 $9,500,000
2B Dustin Ackley 600 3 $1,500,000
SS Brendan Ryan 500 1.5 $1,750,000
3B Casey McGehee 500 1.5 $2,500,000
LF Angel Pagan 500 2 $5,000,000
CF Franklin Gutierrez 600 2.5 $5,813,000
RF Ichiro Suzuki 600 2 $18,000,000
DH Justin Smoak 600 2 $450,000
C Miguel Olivo 300 0.5 $3,750,000
IF Luis Rodriguez 200 0.5 $450,000
IF Kyle Seager 350 1 $450,000
OF Casper Wells 300 1 $450,000
SP Felix Hernandez 220 6 $19,200,000
SP Jason Vargas 180 2.5 $4,000,000
SP Chris Volstad 180 2.5 $2,000,000
SP Erik Bedard 120 2 $4,000,000
SP Jamie Moyer 100 0 $500,000
CL Marco Estrada 60 0.5 $450,000
RP Tom Wilhelmsen 60 0.5 $450,000
RP Shawn Kelley 60 0.5 $450,000
RP Charlie Furbush 60 0.5 $450,000
RP Josh Lueke 60 0.5 $450,000
RP Chance Ruffin 60 0 $450,000
RP Blake Beavan 120 0 $450,000
  Chone Figgins 0 0 $8,000,000
Total     40 $93,463,000

By acquiring a lower salaried star in Votto, there was enough money left to fill various holes with useful role players and not have to expand the budget from beyond where it was last year. This roster is essentially do-able for what the team has been spending historically, and while it’s not as good as what Texas will put on the field next year, it’s not that far from being a contender.

The roster projects out right around +40 WAR, which is roughly an 83 win team. However, there’s upside here – Gutierrez, Pagan, and Ichiro were all substantially better than their projected values in the recent past, while Ackley, Smoak, and Volstad all have enough talent to surpass what is expected of them here. Potential second-half additions in Danny Hultzen and James Paxton could bolster the pitching staff, but would only be summoned if they had shown they were ready for the show.

You’d need breaks to go your way, some good luck with guys staying healthy, and perhaps a breakthrough performance from a couple of the relievers to solidify the bullpen, but contending is a possibility for this squad. At the very least, they should be able to play respectable baseball and get fans excited about coming to Safeco Field once again.

The other benefit – the team still retains most of their long term cost flexibility for the 2013 off-season. Unlike locking yourself into a free agent who will eat up a huge part of the budget for the foreseeable future, this roster gives you the ability to make adjustments going forward. It’s a path to putting a good team on the field without requiring an all-in bet on one player. It gives the Mariners the chance to be good without destroying their future if one big ticket acquisition fails to live up to his hefty contract.

For me, this would be Plan A. Go balls to the wall to get Votto, and then do what’s necessary to fill in the pieces around him to make this a respectable team who could potentially contend in 2012 and would be setup well for 2013 and beyond. If the Reds decide not to play ball when discussing their first baseman… well, we’ll get to Plan B later.

A Few Thoughts On Yu Darvish

November 1, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 27 Comments 

Originally, I was hoping to have my Offseason Plan post done by yesterday. A weekend fever nixed that idea – please return soon, immune system – and I’m now going to push it back to tomorrow. But, in the meantime, I thought I’d link to three posts we did over at FanGraphs today on Yu Darvish, who is someone that the Mariners are connected to from time to time.

First off, Patrick Newman has some background on Darvish, and includes a link to the full broadcast of his final start of the season. If you’ve never seen Darvish pitch but wanted to, make sure to check that out.

Next up was Eno Sarris, who explained why Darvish is different than Dice-K. They’re just not the same pitcher, and while comparisons are inevitable due to the posting process and their backgrounds, using Matsuzaka’s career as a template for what to expect from Darvish just isn’t a very good idea.

Finally, I weighed in on the kind of contract Darvish should be able to command after he’s posted, and point out why I think the current rumored prices are something close to insane.

I’m in the camp of the M’s doing whatever it takes to improve this winter, and if upgrading the pitching staff was the best way to do it, then I’d be all in favor of bringing Darvish on board. I hope the team has at least thoroughly evaluated him and created an informed opinion on his future expected performance. Just like every other player who is available this winter, I think it’s fair to expect the M’s to weigh whether he’s a player they should pursue.

However, if the posting fee is going to be $40-$50 million and he’s going to want a Felix-like contract in order to sign, that’s just too steep for my blood, even if the posting fee comes from a separate budget and doesn’t count against player payroll. While Darvish sounds like an interesting talent, the hype here is pretty large, and the lack of viable alternatives for teams who want to acquire pitching will probably drive his price beyond reason.

My guess – and this is just a guess – is that the team could do better by spending their money elsewhere. Darvish won’t be a part of my Offseason Plan.

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