The Mariners Off-Season Should Not Be Over

January 30, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 91 Comments 

After talking with Jack Zduriencik at the media luncheon last week, Greg Johns reported that the team “may still add a little chip” but noted that “the club is close to being set” as they head towards spring training. More and more, it’s beginning to sound like the Mariners off-season shopping is essentially over with, and the roster the team has now is essentially the one the team will go into the season with. And, to be honest, this annoys the crap out of me.

Right now, the Mariners project as about a 75 win team – maybe a bit higher if you have big expectations for what Ackley, Montero, and Smoak can do next year, maybe a bit lower if you think they’re all going to take some time before they turn into high quality players (or you don’t think they ever will). But, a reasonable accounting for the talent on the team at the moment should put them somewhere in the range of 75 wins. For example, the boys at RLYW used the 2012 Marcel projections and a simulation engine to come up with a current set of projected standings on Saturday, and the M’s came out as a 76 win team, last in the AL West. Because there are two teams that are significantly better, and one team that is arguably better, the Mariners only won the AL West 3.2% of the time and captured the wild card 0.7% of the time. The only AL teams with worse playoff odds were the Orioles and Twins. (Note – we’re ignoring the possibility of a second wild card here, as it’s unlikely to be in play for 2012, but its existence would only reinforce the point I’m about to make.)

But, look at the line just above the Mariners projection in those standings. Marcel thinks the A’s are currently an 82 win team, and the difference in those six extra wins translates into an extra 11.7% chance to capture the division and 2.4% chance of winning the wild card. All told, the also-ran A’s – the eighth best team in the AL based on the simulations – made the playoffs 18% of the time. Whether or not you think the A’s are actually that good (I’ll take the under, personally) is besides the point here, as we’re really more interested in the rise of playoff expectations as a team adds wins to their roster.

Given an expected last place finish, many people suggest that an organization should just concede the season, take their lumps, play the kids, and figure out what they have in terms of young talent going forward. You hear comments all the time like “what’s the difference between winning 75 or 78 games if you come in last in both scenarios?” I’d venture to say that the common perception among fans and many analysts alike is that adding wins to a non-contender is essentially worthless, and teams shouldn’t bother to pursue significant roster upgrades until they’re expected to contend for a playoff spot.

That argument is essentially hogwash, and the available evidence does not support a punt-seasons-on-purpose plan of franchise building in most cases. There are scenarios where a team is so far away from contending that the value of a marginal win is quite small (the 2012 Astros are in such a situation, for instance), but ~75 win teams are not in that position. While wins 85 to 92 have the largest impact on on a potential playoff berth, there’s still quite a bit of value in improving a roster that is only a few players away from being a .500 club.

The reality of a 162 game season is that every year, one or two teams are the benefactors of significant good fortune, and they destroy their pre-season estimate by 15+ wins. Whether it’s a bunch of guys having career years at the same time, the entire pitching staff staying healthy, winning a bunch of one-run games due to timely hitting or pitching, or just a group of young kids making a larger than expected impact on the big league team, the surprising upstart is an annual tradition at this point. Last year, the Diamondbacks improved by 29 games and won their division going away, despite generally being considered an also-ran before the season started. In 2010, the Reds won their division after finishing in the bottom 10 in the league in winning percentage the year before, and the Padres went from one of the worst teams in baseball to missing out on a playoff spot on the final day of the season. The Rockies went from 74 to 92 wins in in 2009. The 2008 Rays won 31 more games than the season prior and ended up in the World Series. Both the Cubs and Diamondbacks went worst-to-first in 2007. In 1990, the Twins won 74 games and finished dead last in a seven team division, but in 1991, they won the World Series – and that was back when only two teams made the playoffs each year.

The current reality is that a 75 win team is a few good breaks away from playing meaningful baseball in September, and even if it doesn’t result in a playoff spot, that kind of unexpected contention can have a significant positive effect on a franchise. The top four teams in attendance gains last year were the Indians (+449,000), Rangers (+442,000), Giants (+350,000), and Pirates (+327,000). You’ll notice that along with the two teams that played in the World Series the year prior, the two teams that got fans back to the ballparks were the teams who hung around in contention for most of the season during a year where their fans had minimal expectations of success.

Fans want hope. Winning provides hope while losing breeds resentment. The singular focus on wins as they relate only to a team’s ability to win a championship is a misunderstanding of the value of a marginal win to a franchise. Back in 2007, Vince Gennaro published a piece at The Hardball Times dealing with win curves and the marginal revenue benefits associated with adding wins for each franchise. Based on the team’s market size, he estimated that adding five wins to push the team from 78 to 83 wins would produce an additional $6 million in revenue for the franchise. That’s just a fraction of the $16 million that would be added by gaining wins 86-91, but there is a real tangible benefit to improving from mediocre to decent.

Why should we care if the Mariners make more money? Well, any basic understanding of economics will tell you that additional revenues support capital expenditures, and teams with higher revenues can support higher payrolls. This isn’t about making the team more profitable – a better team in 2012 gives the team more money to play with next winter, and the winter after that, and the winter after that. Wins produce present value that creates compounding future value.

And so, if the Mariners are really content to sit on their hands and avoid improving this team any further, they’re missing an opportunity to not just make the team less bad, but to really improve their odds of winning both in 2012 and in the future. I’m all for building the nucleus of a roster through the farm, and I’ve spent the entire off-season explaining why I didn’t support a massive contract for Prince Fielder, but my point all along has been that the team could take the money they would have given Fielder and improved the roster in a more efficient way.

Taking the money they would have given Fielder and just putting it in a savings account isn’t helpful. It’s less actively harmful to the organization than signing up for another awful contract, so I’ll take this off-season over one that involved the M’s giving Fielder $200+ million, but at no point have I been advocating for the time to just put their money away and avoid improving the roster when they have the financial capability to do so.

I’m not one of the guys who believes that increasing payroll is the panacea that will allow the Mariners to be competitive again, nor do I believe that Mariners ownership is cheap or is simply defrauding us of a quality product for their own financial gain. I think any reasonably objective look at the team’s expenditures over the last 15 years requires a rejection of that kind of thinking. However, there’s no getting around the fact that the team (as currently constructed) represents a significant downward adjustment in payroll from where the budget stood a year ago, and that’s a bad thing.

This roster has holes in it that could have easily been improved upon with a more aggressive off-season plan. If the organization really decided that their best course of action this winter was to simply wait around to find out exactly how much Prince Fielder would cost, then not invest the money that they would have allocated to him in order to fund alternative upgrades, they screwed up. That’s just a bad plan, and unfortunately, I don’t think the Mariners are all that much closer to being competitive in the AL West than they were in November. They moved some pieces around and brought in some depth to help stave off disaster scenarios where the team might lose another 100 games, but in terms of just pushing the organizational talent level forward this winter, I can’t call this off-season anything other than a failure.

Asking for patience is fine. We’re not expecting a miracle, nor are we demanding that the team just start spending recklessly in order to appease an angry mob. But, there’s no reason the Mariners should cut payroll in 2012, and right now, that looks to be exactly what they’ve decided to do. This team could use more good players, and there have been good players changing teams this winter at prices that were reasonable and easily within the scope of what the team has spent on talent in prior seasons. They didn’t have to sign Prince Fielder to improve the team, but they should have done more than this.

Right now, the Mariners have something like a 1-in-25 shot of making the playoffs. Signing a guy like Edwin Jackson could have pushed those odds to something more like 1-in-10, and put the Mariners in a better position to capitalize if they do catch lightning in a bottle next year. That the team has apparently made a conscious decision to ignore that kind of potential upgrade is frustrating.

I know some will argue that the team is simply leaving themselves more money for next winter, when guys like David Wright and Josh Hamilton could be available to add the roster, and that by going young, the organization will have a better idea of just who they can and can’t count on going forward. But, I don’t see that bringing in another good player or two on reasonable contracts would have interfered with the team’s ability to pursue a premium talent next off-season, nor would those players have significantly interfered with the development of the core of the next good Mariners team. They had room to both go young and still get better this winter.

That they chose to only do one of the two is just simply disappointing.

Baseball America Top 10 List Is Out

January 27, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 81 Comments 

Our friends over at Baseball America released their list of the Top 10 Mariners prospects today, as ranked by USSM alum Conor Glassey. The scouting reports are only available for subscribers (or, for those who purchase the 2012 Prospect Handbook, which contains scouting reports on the Top 30 prospects for each organization), but the list itself is free. Here’s Conor’s take on the top guys coming up through the farm system:

1. Jesus Montero, c
2. Taijuan Walker, rhp
3. Danny Hultzen, lhp
4. James Paxton, lhp
5. Nick Franklin, 2b/ss
6. Francisco Martinez, 3b
7. Chance Ruffin, rhp
8. Tom Wilhelmsen, rhp
9. Vinnie Catricala, 3b/1b/of
10. Phillips Castillo, of

The top five names shouldn’t be any surprise, though some people may switch up the order depending on their risk tolerance. For instance, I’d probably take Danny Hultzen ahead of Taijuan Walker, as I’m less of an upside guy and more a present value guy when it comes to prospects. But, as everyone knows, the M’s have three premium pitching prospects on the way, and Montero and Franklin give them as good of a top 5 as anyone in the game.

There’s a pretty big drop-off between #5 and #6, but it’s nice to see Conor say some positive things about Francisco Martinez. I didn’t love the Doug Fister trade when it happened and it hasn’t grown on me since, but if Martinez can figure out how to translate his tools into performance, that could go a long way to helping make it a better deal for the franchise. I’m generally skeptical of tools guys with lousy plate discipline, but Martinez is young, so there’s some hope there. I do find the separation between his ranking and Carlos Triunfel’s a little odd, given that they’re pretty similar in a lot of ways and only seven months apart in age, but Martinez doesn’t have the “disappointing former big hype guy” label attached to him as Triunfel does. Still, this feels a bit high to me for Martinez – I’m glad BA is optimistic about his future, but I’m not sold yet.

That Ruffin and Wilhelmsen show up at 7/8 on the list tells you the size of the drop-off after Franklin. Both project as potentially good relievers, but they’re relievers. You never really want to have a relief prospect in your top 10, much less two of them.

In the write-up on Carticala, he talks about his potential move to left field, since he’s not really a third baseman and the team already has Justin Smoak at first base. Indeed, that seems to be the direction the organization is going, as they listed Catricala as an outfielder on the press release announcing his invitation to big league camp. It’s the best spot for him, both in terms of his defensive abilities and the organization’s depth chart. If Casper Wells doesn’t impress this year, there’s a roster spot waiting for Catricala to grab, and he could potentially play himself into the mix for a starting role in 2013 if Carp shows that he’s not the answer. At third base, the defense is a real issue, so they’ll just let him settle in as an outfielder and go from there. I know some people have brought him up as an option for that right-handed 3B upgrade I’ve been talking about, but you don’t really want to have him in a job share just yet, so he’s best off as Tacoma’s regular left fielder in 2012.

At the bottom of the list, Castillo represents one of the young bonus babies that the team has signed lately. They’ve invested a lot of money in power hitting teenagers from Latin America, and Castillo is probably the best of the bunch. He’s nowhere close to the Majors, but there’s some thump in his bat, and if he develops into what his physical skills suggest are possible, he could be an intriguing option in 3-4 years.

The M’s system is definitely in good shape, and probably ranks as one of the five or so best in the game right now, though part of that is that they swapped not-a-prospect Pineda for prospect Montero, so there’s a bit of artificial inflation from moving talent off the big league roster. Still, the M’s can stack up their young pitching next to anyone in the game, and there are enough interesting bats on the way that the farm isn’t too lopsided overall.

If you have questions about the rankings, Conor told me he’ll monitor the comments section here and swing by to answer what he can. If you’re a BA subscriber, he’s also doing a live chat over there at noon, or you can ping him on Twitter. Also, I’m sure Jay will be around to chip in his thoughts as well, so consider this a good place for all your prospect related discussions.

Batting Order Shake-Up On The Way

January 25, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 77 Comments 

Eric Wedge hinted at this towards the end of last season, but tonight he made his most declarative statement on the issue, telling Mike Salk on ESPN 710 that he was “leaning in (the) direction” of moving Ichiro out of the leadoff spot. People have been talking about shifting Ichiro to the third spot in the order for years, and it seems like his poor performance in 2011 has given Wedge a reason to try something new.

This is going to be a big story among the mainstream fan base, and will get plenty of coverage in Spring Training, but the reality is that every study ever done on the issue comes to the same conclusion – batting order just doesn’t really matter all that much. You want your best guys at the top of the line-up and the worst guys at the bottom in order to allocate the maximum amount of at-bats to your most productive players, but in terms of producing runs, the exact order isn’t a big deal. Hit the pitcher cleanup? Yeah, that’s bad. Stick your 50 homer guy in the leadoff spot? Not smart. Beyond that, most alignments are going to produce similar results. You can get small advantages by splitting up lefties and righties to reduce late game match-up advantages and the like, but as long as you get the good guys up top and the bad guys down at the bottom, you’ve done most of the hard work.

But, just for fun, let’s work with the current roster and try to predict how the line-up arrangements might go, given the options Wedge presently has to work with. And, since the whole point of this post is that Ichiro is probably not hitting first, we’ll only deal with scenarios where that’s the case. Let’s go position by position:

#1 vs RHP

This is a pretty easy call – Dustin Ackley. Wedge mentioned specifically that he wanted fewer “quick outs” at the top of the order, and Ackley’s by far the most patient hitter on the team. He also looks like a prototypical leadoff guy, runs well, makes contact, and doesn’t have so much power that he’d be wasted batting with the bases empty on a frequent basis. The only other guy I could see even in contention for this would be Chone Figgins, if he somehow wrestled the starting third base job back from Kyle Seager. I’d call that unlikely, though, so we can probably pencil Ackley in here.

#1 vs LHP

This might very well be Figgins. He’s probably going to play a decent amount against lefties, and this way Wedge could give him most of his starts in the leadoff spot, hoping that putting him back there would somehow help him find his offensive groove. They could stay with Ackley if they wanted daily continuity at the top of the order, but if Figgins is on the roster, I’d bet on him getting this spot against southpaws.

#2 vs RHP

The traditional line-up arrangement says you want a high contact guy in this spot, which enables the manager to hit and run or lay down bunts in order to get the guy into scoring position for the big guns. The traditions are wrong, though, and giving the second spot in the order to a bad hitter with bat control is a waste of the spot where the data suggests you want your best hitter. If the M’s were throwing tradition away and going with a data-based approach to line-up construction, this spot should go to Justin Smoak, who would provide another patient bat at the top of the order and the versatility of a switch-hitter behind Ackley. Since they’re probably not ready to do that, though, bet on Ichiro landing here – he is the classic #2 hitter, and dropping him just one spot won’t cause too much of a ruckus.

#2 vs LHP

Again, throwing away traditions means you probably leave Smoak here, but that’s still not likely. Ichiro is the continuity pick, but if Franklin Gutierrez is healthy and gets his power stroke back, he could also be an option here. He’s hit lefties well and takes a decent amount of pitches, but I don’t think the team can really push him this high up in the order until they see evidence that he’s definitively over his physical issues. So, pencil Ichiro in here for now.

#3 vs RHP

Of the top four spots in the batting order, this is actually the least important, despite what a normal line-up arrangement looks like. The reason? No one hits with the bases empty and two outs more often than the #3 hitter, so a decent amount of his hits and walks end up simply delaying the end of an inning rather than resulting in a rally. That doesn’t mean you want Brendan Ryan hitting here, but it’s not as important a position as is usually assumed. If the team was willing to go Ackley-Smoak in the top two spots, then this wouldn’t be a bad spot for Ichiro. Those two out/bases empty situations could result in single + SB attempt, giving him more opportunities to run while lowering the cost of getting thrown out. And, let’s be honest, there’s no way Wedge is moving Ichiro any lower than this without causing an international incident. If Smoak was #2, Ichiro would fit in nicely at #3, but they’ll probably go the more traditional route, so this spot could go to any of Smoak, Montero, or Carp. Carp probably makes the least sense behind Ackley-Ichiro, since that would line you up with three LHBs in a row. And #3 for a rookie seems like something Wedge might not want to do, so Smoak’s probably the favorite.

#3 vs LHP

This starts to get a little interesting. If I’m right and it’s Figgins-Ichiro in the top two spots, then you’ve got Ackley, Smoak, Montero, and one of Carp/Wells/Olivo, depending on who is playing where on a particular day. Wedge showed that he had no problems hitting Olivo high in the order last year, and he’s traditionally hit lefties okay, so he’d be the choice if they wanted to ease the pressure on the young kids. But he’s also the worst hitter of the bunch and probably belongs lower in the order, so we’ll rule him out for now. If Smoak’s hitting third against righties, just leaving him there against lefties has some appeal so he can know where he’s hitting everyday, so he’s probably the favorite here. But Montero’s probably the right-handed bat with the most thunder, and Ackley’s the best hitter on the team, so either one could also fit in here. If Smoak is hitting well in April, he probably gets this spot to himself. If he doesn’t, expect a rotation.

#4 vs RHP

Personally, I think this is one of the easiest spots to predict Wedge’s decision in the entire line-up – Mike Carp will hit here when he plays. Montero and Smoak are the only other options, but Wedge has talked about how he thought Smoak struggled adjusting to the pressures of that role last year, and he won’t want to do that to Montero at such a young age either. Carp’s a little older and has a little more experience, so he’ll get this job.

#4 vs LHP

This is basically the same discussion as the #3 spot, just minus Ackley, who no manager would be willing to hit clean-up for fear of mockery. If it’s Figgins-Ichiro-Smoak at the top of the order, then you’re probably looking at Carp/Wells, Olivo, or possibly Montero. Carp’s the continuity pick if they decide not to platoon him, Olivo’s the veteran pick, and Montero’s the best-right-handed-bat-on-the-team pick. I’d go with Montero, but I’d bet on Wedge going with either Carp or Olivo. Carp hit lefties well enough that they might not sit him against southpaws this year, but it’d be a bit of a shame to sit Wells in favor of a bad defensive LH hitter against LHPs, so let’s hope that reason wins out. Of course, I just argued that reason would lead to Olivo hitting cleanup for us again. Have I mentioned that I think this team could use a right-handed hitting third baseman with power?

#5 vs RHP

It’s Montero, with the alignment ahead of him having little to no bearing on this spot. It’s high enough that he can still provide the promised boost to the offense, but low enough so that they can say they’re not putting too much pressure on him right away. Besides, if Carp’s hitting clean-up, it gives you the L/R breakup, which managers always look for. This one’s easy.

#5 vs LHP

Still easy, still Montero. If they decided to hit him third or fourth against southpaws, then this spot probably goes to Olivo. But bet on Montero.

#6 vs RHP

The top five hitters on this team versus right-handed pitchers are pretty easy to pick out, and will almost certainly hit 1-5 in some order. Here, it becomes a little more tossing of the darts. Kyle Seager and John Jaso both provide left-handed bats, which keeps the L/R/L thing going, but neither have the power a manager generally looks for in this spot. Gutierrez has shown more power than either before, but again, health is a question and he’s never hit righties all that well. On days when Casper Wells is playing center field, I’d bet on him here, but the M’s don’t want that to be a regular occurrence. So, by default, it’s Seager – more power than Jaso, more left-handed than Guti.

#6 vs LHP

If Wells is playing, pencil him in here. If he’s not, that means Carp is in the line-up and potentially hitting fourth, so this would be a potential spot for Olivo. And, of course, the current guesses have the top five going Figgins-Ichiro-Smoak-Carp/Olivo-Montero, so Ackley’s still got to fit in somewhere, and you probably don’t want the team’s best hitter batting much lower than this, even against a same-handed pitcher. Still, I’d think this spot will go to the second of the Carp/Wells/Olivo trio that is in the line-up that day. One of them will hit clean-up, one will hit here.

#7 vs RHP

The logical landing spot for Gutierrez. Putting him between Seager and Jaso breaks up the left-handed bats at the bottom of the order, and there’s enough hope that his power might return to think that he could be a decent option here.

#7 vs LHP

Ackley can’t hit lower than this. That he’s even being considered to hit this low is a problem. But, then again, Guti has historically hit lefties well, and would be the team’s regular #7 hitter, so continuity would argue for him here. I can’t believe I’m going to project Ackley as the #8 hitter against lefties, but slight nod to Guti here. Ugh.

#8 vs RHP

Jaso if he’s catching. If he’s not, Olivo might get moved up to #7 and Guti could hit here. But Jaso probably gets the most at-bats here.

#8 vs LHP

I’m sorry, Dustin. I can’t explain it either. It just shook out this way.

#9 vs RHP

Brendan Ryan, come on down. You’re the worst hitter on the team, so you hit last. I’m sure you’re used to it by now.

#9 vs LHP

Yup, still the worst hitter on the team. The only chance for him to rise from purgatory is if they decided to leave Ackley as the full-time leadoff guy, and then put Figgins in this spot in order to have the “back to back leadoff hitters” thing that managers like to talk about. In reality, it’s just a fancy way of saying that your worst hitter is also fast.

So, that leaves us with the following projections:


1. Ackley, 2B
2. Ichiro, RF
3. Smoak, 1B
4. Carp, LF
5. Montero, DH
6. Seager, 3B
7. Gutierrez, CF
8. Jaso, C
9. Ryan, SS


1. Figgins, 3B
2. Ichiro, RF
3. Smoak, 1B
4. Olivo, C or Carp, LF
5. Montero, DH
6. Wells, LF or Olivo, C
7. Gutierrez, CF
8. Ackley, 2B
9. Ryan, SS

I would say I have a decent amount of confidence that the current roster would produce an opening day line-up that looked something like that. I don’t see Wedge throwing out tradition to put Smoak in the #2 spot, and while they could try something like Seager at #2 and Ichiro at #3, with Smoak and Montero sliding back in the order slightly, I don’t think the M’s will want to try and show off their revamped offense by going 1-2-3 with hitters who are all limited power threats.

Against lefties, it’s a bit more up in the air. There’s a good chance Figgins isn’t even on this team when the season starts, which would allow Ackley to move back to the leadoff spot, but if he’s here, I think the team may try to give him at-bats at the top of the order to try and re-energize him. But, as you can see, that decision would have some repercussions. My guess is that this is an issue Wedge won’t ever have to manage around, but for now, it’d be a bit of a sticky situation. They could just tell Figgins to get over his desire to hit leadoff and put him at the bottom of the order, of course, but with Ichiro being displaced, Figgins would likely feel like he should be next in line for the job, given his track record. I know that how he feels doesn’t matter to most of us, but it will likely matter to Eric Wedge, especially if the whole point of keeping him is to try and get him to play well so he might re-gain some trade value and make dumping him easier. It’s a lot easier to sell Figgins as an interesting piece to another team if he’s hitting .300 and you can argue that he just needed to be back in the leadoff spot this whole time.

Ideally, I’d still rather see the team dump Figgins and get a better right-handed third baseman to take those at-bats, but as we’ve talked about, there aren’t a lot of options out there with that skillset. I’d imagine Jack is working the phones trying to find a guy who could be an option, but if he can’t, this might be the line-up versus lefties we’d say in 2012.

Current Depth Chart

January 24, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 91 Comments 

Prince Fielder isn’t coming to Seattle, so you can officially cross him off the “what’s next” list of possibilities. You could have done that after the team traded for Jesus Montero, honestly, but now you can officially stop wondering if the team was really going to put four 1B/DH types in the line-up at the same time next year. The answer is no – they’ll settle for just three.

So, what does the line-up look like right now, and if the team wanted to make another move, where would the new guy fit in? To help show the current state of the position players, I’ve created a basic depth chart, based on the guys I see making the Opening Day roster as of today. For each player, their playing time by position is shown, and you can see how the allocation at each position breaks down from the top. Without further ado:

Position Player C 1B 2B SS 3B LF CF RF DH Total
C John Jaso 250 250
1B Justin Smoak 500 100 600
2B Dustin Ackley 600 600
SS Brendan Ryan 500 500
3B Kyle Seager 450 450
LF Mike Carp 150 400 100 650
CF Franklin Gutierrez 500 500
RF Ichiro Suzuki 600 600
DH Jesus Montero 200 400 600
C Miguel Olivo 200 50 250
OF Casper Wells 200 100 50 350
IF Munenori Kawasaki 50 150 200
UT Chone Figgins 200 50 50 300
Totals 650 650 650 650 650 650 650 650 650 5850

Since these are just to give you an overview of the current situation, the playing time projections aren’t anything overly scientific. In reality, some positions will get a few more PAs than others due to line-up position, but in general, each spot comes out to around 700 or so. The missing 50 PA per position can be assumed to be filled by guys who get called up from the minors when injuries strike.

Let’s start with catcher, since it’s both at the top of the list and perhaps the position with the most potential for change. I’ve got Montero slotted for about 50 games worth of playing time behind the plate, which is about the maximum I can realistically see the team giving him right now. They’re simply not going to ask him to both be the impact bat they acquired and handle everyday duties behind the plate, especially with the present state of his defensive abilities. I expect that they’ll handle him much like the Rangers handled Mike Napoli a year ago, working him in to the position slowly in the early part of the season until the pitchers get comfortable throwing to him. If he handles himself well during his once-or-twice per week appearances behind the plate in April and May, they may look to move Olivo during the summer and increase his workload behind the plate, but that’s the best case scenario. It’s also entirely possible that they realize early on that it’s just not going to work out, and he moves to DH full time.

That said, I’m not convinced that Olivo is going to be particularly happy about this arrangement, especially since Jaso is around to start some games against RHPs. Olivo wasn’t overly thrilled to be in a job share with Chris Iannetta in Colorado, and given his desire to play regularly, I doubt he’d be content with the current setup. So, I don’t think this is actually the group that makes it to Opening Day. If the team has an opportunity to move Olivo without picking up much of the $3.75 million he’s still due, I wouldn’t be surprised if they do it and replace him on the roster with Chris Gimenez. Gimenez is a Wedge favorite, would give the team a veteran who wouldn’t require as much playing time, and would give them a bit more roster flexibility since he has some outfield experience. And, replacing Olivo with Gimenez would likely cut a few million off the payroll, so if the team wanted to add another player but needed some funds to make the move, swapping out Olivo for Gimenez could help make that happen.

If there aren’t any takers for Olivo, the organization could just send Jaso back to Triple-A, since he does have an option remaining. In this scenario, Olivo would handle the bulk of the catching duty, with Montero getting his reps behind the plate when Olivo needed a day off, but this takes away the only left-handed catching option from the roster and hurts the team’s ability to get platoon advantages against opposing starters. Besides, I doubt the team traded for Jaso with the idea of having him hang out in Tacoma, so this is probably Plan C.

Right now, the plan is likely to carry three catchers with Montero getting most of his at-bats at DH. The most notable impact his acquisition has on the roster is that it definitively pushes Mike Carp to left field, which was somewhat expected given the way Eric Wedge was talking at the winter meetings. While Carp is a pretty horrendous defender out there, it seemed clear that the team was prioritizing offense, and they’d live with Carp running around the outfield in order to get more bats into the line-up. With Casper Wells the obvious choice as the team’s fourth outfielder (no, Trayvon Robinson isn’t a serious threat), Wedge has natural left/right and offense/defense platoons he can run, and I’d expect Wells to be regularly inserted into the game for defensive purposes. Combine that with some regular playing time in CF in order to keep Gutierrez from wearing down, and there should be enough playing time for Wells to show what he can do. He won’t be an everyday guy, but this alignment doesn’t box him out either.

The problem with this outfield group is a massive lack of depth. Gutierrez’s health problems and Carp’s defensive limitations essentially demand that the team carry five outfielders, but with three catchers and an expectation of a 12 man pitching staff, there simply isn’t room for a fifth OF. So, everyone’s favorite player Chone Figgins is actually something of a necessary piece right now. Or, at least, the need for someone on the bench besides Wells with the versatility to play the outfield. If the team swapped out Olivo for Gimenez, then they’d have another LF option, but they’d still be too thin in center. Unless the team was willing to ask Ichiro to cover CF on occasion, they can’t really go into the season with just two guys on the team who can cover center field. Figgins is still relatively fast and has experience at the position, so if the team kept him around in a utility role, he’d fill that void.

But, then, does anyone really want to keep Chone Figgins around? Especially if we’re talking about bringing in another player who could provide an offensive upgrade, a right-handed hitting third baseman to take Figgins spot would seem to be a natural choice. Seager isn’t ready to be an everyday player yet, and Kawasaki (or whoever the backup SS is) will probably need help covering the 2B/SS innings behind Ackley and Ryan, so Seager could still get plenty of playing time even if the team did trade for a guy like Mark Reynolds. But, if you trade Figgins and stuff for Reynolds, you’re back to four outfielders. At that point, you’d probably have to swap out Olivo for Gimenez too – it would be convenient if Baltimore wanted Olivo, but he wouldn’t be happy as Wieters backup either – in order to get the fifth OF, but that situation probably requires Ichiro to play center occasionally. It could happen, but I don’t know that it’s the plan the M’s would want to enter the season with.

That’s kind of the thing with adding a regular DH – it does limit roster construction and force you to make compromises elsewhere. For instance, if the team wanted to acquire my boy Will Venable from the Padres to help cover some CF innings and work into the LF mix against right-handed pitching, they probably wouldn’t be able to make it work anymore. There just isn’t a roster spot for him now – you can’t punt Figgins without replacing the third base depth he provides.

And, even if the team did go back to two catchers or 11 pitchers (very unlikely, given the current rotation) to open up a spot for another OF/DH type, the playing time just isn’t really there. A guy like Venable would push Carp to DH, which is good, but that either pushes Montero to the bench (which is bad) or catcher (where Wedge probably won’t be willing to use him too often, especially early in the season). If the team signed one of the aging DH types still on the market, they’d simply be cutting into Montero’s playing time as well, and would probably represent a downgrade in production over what he can probably give the team.

In reality, the best position player roster spot to upgrade is the one currently held by Figgins, as he’s the guy on the team with no real future in Seattle and a decent amount of playing time to be reallocated elsewhere. The hard part is figuring out how you replace Figgins with a decent offensive player that can also cover both 3B and the outfield. Or, if the necessary depth at those spots needs to be two different players, how you make it work with just one somewhat open roster spot in the current configuration.

It’s not an easy puzzle to solve, honestly. I know some will say just dump Olivo, push Montero to the everyday catcher role, and you have the DH spot available, but that’s just not practical given his defensive limitations and the expectation of offense that he carries. To believe he can be both the team’s best hitter and a regular MLB catcher at this point in his career is simply asking too much.

At this point, I think I’d try to dump both Figgins and Olivo to get as much cost savings between those two moves as I could, and give Figgins OF time to Gimenez, as much as that’s not an ideal situation. That would allow the team to focus on acquiring a guy who could just split his playing time between 3B/1B, and would let them focus more on a bat-first player than a versatile defensive type.

In reality, I think a guy like Reynolds is the team’s best option at this point. The price shouldn’t be too terribly high, the Orioles would likely be willing to take Figgins back in the swap if the M’s eat most of the contract, and as a right-handed power hitter, he’d fit into the current roster situation without causing any ripples. He’s probably not a long term answer at third base, but he provides 1B/DH depth in case Smoak doesn’t hit or Montero proves more adept at catching than expected. And, since it’s just a one year commitment, the team isn’t locked in if he doesn’t adjust well to Safeco or his glove continues to be horrendous.

Given the current state of the position players, he’s the best fit that I can find. I’d still rather see the team spend the rest of their remaining cash on Edwin Jackson instead, but if the team is looking for one more move to upgrade the offense, Reynolds is worth considering.

Fielder Signs With Detroit

January 24, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 128 Comments 

9/214. Seriously, if you’re upset that the Mariners “missed out” on that deal, you’re nuts. Huzzah for the Mariners not wasting that kind of money on one player.

The Best Pitching Performances in M’s History

January 23, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 13 Comments 

The “Inside the Book” Blog had an interesting post up the other day riffing on an idea from an Athletics Nation blogger named Dave Wishinsky: FIP perfect games. The idea’s pretty simple: a traditional no-hitter/perfect game (and other stats that use hits allowed, like game scores) essentially give credit to the pitcher when balls in play are turned into outs. FIP ignores balls in play and focuses solely on HRs, BBs, Ks, and HBPs – events that the pitcher is more directly responsible for. Tango asked, how many starters have pitched a game that resulted in a FIP of 0 – the formula’s in his post, but essentially this means a game without any walks, hit batsmen or homers allowed, and at least 15 strikeouts (technically, 14Ks up until 1993, this was when the FIP constant moved from 3.0 to 3.2).
That’s a pretty high bar, so perhaps it shouldn’t come as any surprise that there’ve been fewer FIP perfect games than “real” perfect games. Here’s the list from 1919-1992, and here’s the list from 1993-2011 (using the 15K threshold). Given the restrictive criteria, I’m surprised to see the range of game scores/runs allowed; Urban Shocker gave up 8 hits and 4 runs in his game, whereas Luis Tiant K’d 19 and gave up no runs in a 10 inning complete game.
As you might expect, there are no Mariners hurlers on the list – Erik Bedard’s got the most recent FIP perfect game, but it came in 2007 as a member of the Orioles. Felix Hernandez posted a FIP of -0.05 last year in an 8IP drubbing of a feeble Padres squad, but it wasn’t a complete game. For 9-inning low-FIP complete games in M’s history, the top spot goes, perhaps unsurprisingly, to Randy Johnson. His 1 BB, 1 H, 15K no-decision against Mark Langston’s Angels was amazing (and it’s technically a FIP perfect game, or maybe a FIP no-hitter, if you allow no-decisions) but it came in a Mariner loss. RJ’s low-FIP complete game was a rather pedestrian (for him) win over the Indians in which he gave up 3 runs and 8 hits.
So if that game doesn’t feel “perfect” – what does? Randy Johnson’s no-hitter was dominant at times, but…six walks? Chris Bosio’s included 27 straight outs, but it also included 2 walks to the first two hitters and a great defensive play by Omar Vizquel to end it. By game score, the top Mariner pitching performance was turned in by Erik Hanson in 1990 with his 10 IP, 0R, 11K, 0BB no-decision against the Oakland A’s. Patrick Dubuque wrote about it not too long ago at Proball NW, noting that Hanson’s duel with Dave Stewart produced the highest combined game score in the past 40 years.

Walking through these approaches and these games, here’s what I found intriguing:
1) By two wholly different measures, the top pitching performances in M’s history both came in extra-inning losses. Mariners!
2) Erik Hanson was so much better than Randy Johnson in 1990 – he was worth 4.6 rWAR to Johnson’s 2.1, or 6.9 (!) fWAR to RJ’s 2.3, posted a better strikeout rate, a better walk rate and a FIP that was almost 1.5 runs better. Oh, he was also a year and a half younger. Mark Langston was the team’s first pitching phenom, but not even Langston had a season as good as Hanson’s 1990.
3) While on-base percentage has gained a great deal of acceptance both from teams and sportswriters, it’s instructive to see a box score like Hanson’s game to remind us all how alien the concept was in the early 90s. Noted free-swinger Greg Briley batted second, behind Harold Reynolds. Pete O’Brien’s death-rattling .551 OPS was slotted above Dave Valle, because O’Brien was the first baseman, and first baseman can hit. Jeffrey Leonard’s abysmal .295 wOBA batted fifth, because he used to hit the ball a country mile. Languishing in the 7th spot was a guy with a wOBA of .372, on his way to a 5.8 WAR season. Still, not a ton of power from 3B, and he hadn’t paid his dues. Gotta take the pressure off of him; have him learn by watching professional hitters grind out productive outs, etc.

Mariners Sign Kevin Millwood

January 22, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 50 Comments 

The Mariners have been rumored to have interest in Kevin Millwood for a month or so now, and today, news has come out that he has agreed to terms with the team on a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. It’s not at all uncommon for teams to bring in veteran guys to hang out in Arizona so the team can evaluate whether they have anything left to add – the team just did that very thing with Aaron Heilman, for example – but that’s probably not how we should look at this deal. Barring injury, I’d say Millwood has a very good chance to make the team as a starter out of spring training.

The M’s have been talking about wanting a Major League veteran for the rotation all winter. Right now, the 2-3-4 spots in the rotation are being filled by Jason Vargas, Hisashi Iwakuma, and probably Hector Noesi, so the middle of the rotation is two rookies and a guy with a decent history of health problems. Yes, Vargas has thrown 400 innings over the last two years, so perhaps the perception of him as a five inning guy shouldn’t be there anymore, but there’s no question that he’s still viewed with some skepticism due to his second half fades the last couple of years.

With those three penciled in for rotation spots, it was always unlikely that the team would hand the fifth starter’s job to another youngster, whether that was Blake Beavan, Charlie Furbush, Danny Hultzen, or James Paxton (the latter two could certainly benefit from a few months in the minors, and people screaming that this move “blocks them” should realize that Millwood will not present any kind of obstacle to their promotion once they prove they’re big league ready). Eric Wedge just wasn’t going to be comfortable breaking camp with Felix followed by four guys with limited track records in the big leagues, so it was always likely that the team was going to add an older guy to the mix. Enter Millwood.

At 37, he’s been around the block a bunch. Wedge and Willis know him from his time in Cleveland. And, if there’s one thing you can say about Millwood, it’s that he’s always been a guy you could count on to rack up innings. Before last season (when he spent the first few months on the sidelines waiting for someone to give him a job), he’d thrown 150+ innings every year since 2005. Declining stuff has meant that the quality of those innings have gone from being good to just okay, but even at his worst, he’s never posted xFIP higher than 4.86, and he was actually pretty good in limited time with the Rockies last year.

From 2009-2011, he posted the following line:

7.5% BB%, 15.2% K%, 40.1% GB%, 11.5% HR/FB, .294 BABIP, 98 ERA-, 107 FIP-, 105 xFIP-

He’s basically been a pretty generic MLB starter, posting a walk rate right around league average and a strikeout rate just a tick below that. His ERA has been slightly better than his peripherals would suggest, even with the inflated home run rate, but all three of the minus stats (remember, 100 is average, and like with ERA, lower is better) put him right around the average-ish starter mark. Any basic projection of his 2012 performance will start with that performance and then take a bit off to account for the fact that he is getting older, but even at 37, Millwood’s still a useful fifth starter in the big leagues – if he stays healthy and throws 150 innings, he’s probably something like a +1 win pitcher next year.

On its face, it’s hard to argue with bringing in a useful veteran who adds pitching depth at a minimal cost and reduces the amount of apprehension on the coaching staff. Bringing in Millwood simply gives the Mariners more options, not less, and provides them with some security in case Iwakuma’s shoulder is still an issue or Noesi proves not to be ready to step right into a big league rotation. Depth is nice, and when it comes to pitchers, you can never have enough guys capable of taking the hill and throwing strikes.

That said, Millwood doesn’t really represent any kind of significant upgrade for the team. While Blake Beavan’s ERA wasn’t supported by his underlying performance, he offers the same basic throw-strikes-and-hope-it-turns-out-okay skillset as Millwood does. Swapping out Beavan for Millwood is basically a lateral move, and while it’s nice to have two of these guys in case of emergency, the team isn’t appreciably better with Millwood in the rotation than they would have been with Beavan.

And that’s kind of the sticking point about this move for me. As I talked about in my recap of the Montero-Pineda swap, I was fine with the concept of trading pitching for hitting in order to take advantage of the deflated market for free agent starters right now. Spending the remaining money in the budget to upgrade the offense wasn’t going to be easy, but with guys like Edwin Jackson sitting around hoping someone shows some interest in him eventually, using that cash to replace Pineda with a quality starting pitcher wouldn’t be too terribly hard.

The Mariners could theoretically still make a run at a guy like Jackson, but this signing makes that a lot less likely, I’d imagine. My guess is that the team will be content to go to spring training with a projected starting rotation of Felix-Vargas-Iwakuma-Millwood and then one of the young pitchers (with Noesi probably having a leg up at the moment), with the losers of the Beavan/Furbush/Noesi battle headed to the bullpen. They wouldn’t have signed Millwood had they intended to just displace him with another free agent starter, and I don’t see the team being overly motivated to completely shut off the collection of young arms from competition in spring training.

So, the question once again comes back to “now what?” Assuming Millwood gets $1 or $2 million in salary if he makes the team, the organization has a currently projected payroll in the low-$80 million range right now. That’s a good $10-$15 million below what they’ve been running in prior years, and I can’t see the team actually deciding to slash payroll this winter, especially with so many fans having hyped themselves up into hoping the team gets Prince Fielder. It’s just tough to imagine that they would have publicly displayed any interest in Fielder if Plan B was just going to be to spend no money whatsoever and fill out the roster with a bunch of low cost guys that the average fan has never heard of.

So, if we assume that this move means that they’re not going to pursue a guy like Jackson to upgrade the rotation, then it’s not exactly clear what else the team would do to upgrade the roster before spring training begins. They don’t really have a roster spot for another LF/DH type, so the only way to fit another bat onto the team would be to jettison Miguel Olivo and go with Jaso/Montero as the catching platoon, and I find it hard to believe the Mariners are really ready to make that kind of commitment.

So, when the question is “now what?”, I don’t really know what the answer is. They theoretically still have money to spend, but they’re running out of roster spots to hand out to guys who would represent a substantial upgrade of any kind. At this point, the only thing I can see the team still doing is swapping out Chone Figgins for a better third baseman (such as Mark Reynolds), because beyond that, any other upgrades might have to come from some kind of rabbit-out-of-the-hat trade that none of us see coming.

Like with every other move they’ve made this off-season, Millwood’s a nice role player at a good price. These guys make sense and give the roster needed depth, but I can’t imagine that the team is really going to say that they’re good with all of their transactions representing that kind of move. Even while I’ve advocated for a spread-the-money around plan in lieu of throwing a huge contract at Prince Fielder, I’ve advocated for acquisitions that would offer the hope of bringing in players who could be everyday guys both now and in the future.

Millwood is not that. Sherrill is not that. Iwakuma and Jaso might be, but both come with significant question marks. Montero can be that, but he cost the team a similarly useful piece in order to get him, so that was more of a lateral move than an upgrade. Noesi could be that, except signing Millwood now makes it somewhat less likely that he’ll make the team as a starter on Opening Day.

Jack Z has done a nice job of acquiring players who should help ensure that the team won’t suck as badly as they did last year, but he hasn’t really done anything yet this winter that pushes the organizational talent base forward in a substantial way. Given that the Mariners should still have some money to spend, they shouldn’t be content to call Millwood the final off-season acquisition and just go to camp with the roster they have now. They can and should do better. There’s nothing wrong with signing Kevin Millwood, but this can’t be the last move. There still has to be something else. And now that the something else probably isn’t another starting pitcher, I’m just not sure what other options the team has left.

Time to pull off another move that no one saw coming, Jack, because right now, this team isn’t going to win back enough fans to make the 2012 season a success.

Montero, Darvish, Perez, Colon: AL West Bullet Points for 1/18

January 18, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 19 Comments 

1: I have to agree with Dave that Jesus Montero’s bat is likely to be an upgrade, but something short of hall-of-fame level. The list of players Dave compiled includes quite a few guys who were established in the majors at the age Montero is now. Focusing on college-drafted players gets you a pool that’s more similar age-wise, but it presents its own set of problems.
This is yet another reason why the M’s need to have some patience with Montero’s defense at catcher. Dave lays out the worst-case scenario here : if Montero is so bad defensively that his defense eats up the entire 30 run delta, then the extra wear and tear he’d suffer as a catcher makes the decision simple: you DH him. Well, if you’d like to see the best-case scenario, Jonathan Mayo of has you covered. Is Montero terrible right now? Yes, but so were some other bat-first catchers that, with hard work, made themselves into simply “bad” or “mediocre” defenders. The M’s have been living with awful defenders at catcher for years now, so the bar isn’t high.
Keeping Montero behind the plate not only maximizes his value from a WAR standpoint, it gives the M’s line-up some much-needed flexibility. A few short years ago, the M’s had an above-average hitter in CF and bought an above-average hitter for 3B/2B on the free-agent market. Today, Franklin Gutierrez is trying to forget an .245 wOBA injury-plagued season, and M’s fans are trying to forget Chone Figgins, who’s coming off an eye-popping .218 wOBA campaign. The M’s have few good MLB hitters, and the ones they’ve got are clustered in bat-first positions. Giving the DH role to Montero means that they can’t use that role strategically – using Smoak at 1B and Mike Carp at DH against a good righty, giving Ichiro a day off in the field, or playing two of Caspar Wells, Trayvon Robinson, Chih-Hsien Chang and Carp. The M’s are working on good hitters at glove-first positions (Nick Franklin, Brad Miller, Tyler Marlette), but in the next year or so, they could add Alex Liddi and Vinnie Catricala, two guys who might benefit from the odd DH appearance. Giving the DH role to Montero full-time limits his future value while making it more difficult to find plate appearances for the plethora of interesting-but-flawed hitters the M’s have on the 40-man.

2: As expected, the Rangers signed Japanese-Persian sensation Yu Darvish to a six year deal worth around $60 million. Reports from Texas have the guaranteed money at a bit under $60m, with the potential value as high as $70m if incentives are met. Interestingly, Darvish would also get an opt out after five years if he performs well. Initially, the deal seemed very team-friendly, even in a situation where Darvish has no leverage (he can’t attempt to sign with another team), but an opt-out and incentive money helps make it a bit more even. Despite the fact that Darvish has (deservedly) surpassed Daisuke Matsuzaka’s record posting fee-plus-contract, I still think this could end up being a solid deal for the Rangers. His projections span a wide range, but nearly all of them have him as a solidly above-average performer. The Rangers took a shot at signing a player who may be one of the five best pitchers on the planet. They spent a ton of money, but Darvish could be worth the money even if he never has an 8-win, Halladay-style season. The Rangers lost the top free agent pitcher in baseball and still got better this offseason.

3: The M’s signed ex-Pirate and Mets hurler Oliver Perez to a minor-league deal today. Perez rode an above-average fastball and a good slider to a 4.5 WAR season with the Pirates as a 22 year old in 2004. Since that time, he’s thrown 700 innings of basically replacement-level pitching – a BB/9 of over 5, an ERA+ of 84 and a grand total of -1.3 rWAR all at the bargain-basement price of $47.1 million. The combination of high salary and near 7 ERAs has made the lefty something of a punch line, and reaction around the blogosphere’s been mixed. But Perez has a lifetime K/9 of 9.1, a K rate of nearly 23%. He’s fallen quite a bit from where he was, but the problem with Oliver hasn’t been missing bats – it’s missing everything else. A case of Steve Blass disease got him released by the Mets last year, and while it doesn’t mean anything, his numbers in Mexico and in the Nationals’ AA side were encouraging. Essentially, Perez is always viewed through the prism of the tripping-balls contract he got with the Mets. Another reclamation project with some encouraging MLB/MiLB history on a minor league deal and we’d be praising Zduriencik’s buy-low strategy. With Perez, the first reaction is always “Ewwww.” I’m not exactly sure why, but I think there’s a stigma attached to anyone who flames out after getting a big contract. We’ve all watched Carlos Silva, so I get it, and while I realize this isn’t strictly necessary: the M’s will NOT pay Oliver Perez 36 million, 47 million or anything close to it. I laughed when I first saw it too, but this seems like a no-risk, medium reward addition to the pile of non-roster invitees.

4: Jamie Moyer signed a minor-league deal with the Colorado Rockies. The 49 year old is coming off of Tommy John surgery, and his home parks in either the NL or the PCL are not exactly pitcher friendly. I know, I know: THIS was the minor-league lefty/non-roster invitee that folks wanted the M’s to make, and there’s a case to be made that he could essentially be another pitching coach in Tacoma, helping Erasmo Ramirez, James Paxton and eventually Danny Hultzen with their change-ups. (The thought of Oliver Perez speaking to any M’s prospects about anything pitching-related is, admittedly, a bit off-putting). I don’t think it’s overwhelming, though. 49 year old Jamie Moyer, in AAA, may not fit in an organization that’s got so much high-minors pitching depth, it made Michael Pineda expendable. I understand that not everyone in the org has the upside of Paxton or Hultzen, and yes, Anthony Vasquez might get a lot of AAA innings, but I can understand the M’s not pursuing this all that hard, and I can understand Moyer looking at organizations that might offer a clearer path to the big leagues. It’s sentimental and nostalgic, but I’m rooting for Moyer, and look forward to seeing him pitch in Cheney Stadium this year (assuming he’s not called up before he gets the chance).

5: The Angels signed Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson. The Rangers have Yu Darvish, and might be closing in on Prince Fielder. The M’s made a huge splash in the trade market by bringing in Jesus Montero. The A’s have traded away Tim Cahill and Gio Gonzalez, and their biggest free agent moves (by dollar amount) are signing Coco Crisp to a 2-year, $14m deal and now signing Bartolo Colon to a 1 year, $2m contract. You can make a case that this is a decent signing for a team that’s just trying to play out the string until Jarrod Parker and the slew of new prospects are ready. But think of how this must look to an A’s fan – two of the team’s best players, gone. $14m given to Coco Crisp, who is in his age 32 season, and coming off a .317 wOBA. Bartolo Colon, who is against all odds NOT a buy-low reclamation project, and is heading into his age 39 year. To top it off, the team has been openly courting a move to San Jose. Each of these moves, in isolation, may make some sense. It’s not like the A’s haven’t addressed any needs – they started the off-season with essentially no outfielders and now have an assortment of possibilities there. But add them together, and this seems like a team that’s out of creative ideas.
That may be harsh, especially given that “Moneyball” was just released on DVD, but not only are big-market teams utilizing some of the same strategies that made Oakland successful years ago, the Tampa Bay Rays are more competitive with a lower payroll in a tougher division. The A’s have been relative successful at cobbling together a credible team, aided by some better-than-expected seasons from Josh Willingham, Coco Crisp, and Brandon McCarthy. They’re still able to get wins out of under-the-radar players, but it’s really difficult to develop a winning organization that way – Willingham’s gone, Crisp is now expensive, and McCarthy has gone from journeyman to rotation anchor, and also must be wondering if the A’s can afford next year’s arbitration award. Again, this is the ugliest stage on the win curve, and we in Seattle have been insulated from the ugliness of a full-scale, budget-conscious rebuilding effort (what we’ve lived through has been, arguably, much worse). Still, some of these deals have to rankle even died-in-the-wool, Moneyball A’s fans. The A’s have no money, might move, and gave $14 million to Coco Crisp. I assume no one wanted the Astros (who signed Jack Cust yesterday to a one-year deal with a team option) in the AL West more than Oakland. The A’s operate under constraints that most teams don’t face, but even amongst the small-payroll, small-market underdogs, are the A’s stand-outs anymore?

Why I’m Not As High On Montero’s Bat As Most

January 17, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 41 Comments 

I know, I wrote up a Montero piece on FanGraphs yesterday and just linked to it here, and now I’m doing it again, but this won’t be a habit, I promise. Most of my Mariners-related content is still going to go here – I just decided to use Montero (a nationally prominent guy) to make somewhat larger arguments about the sport. The pieces are about him, but also about how we value players and prospects, and so they were a good fit for over there.

Anyway, here’s the piece I wrote over there today, which essentially explains why I’m not yet sold that Montero is certainly going to turn into a franchise hitter. The potential for that kind of performance is there, but history suggests that perhaps a Paul Konerko career path might be more realistic. While it’s certainly valid to be excited about what Montero could bring to the line-up, we should also be realistic about the range of possible outcomes. He could be great, more likely he’ll be pretty good, but he could also suck. Similar players have done all three. He’s probably going to be a good hitter, maybe a great one, but we should understand what risks he brings to the plate as well. The M’s didn’t trade Pineda for a sure thing.

Jesus Montero and Defensive Value

January 16, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 93 Comments 

It’s 2,300 words and I still feel like I just scratched the surface of the subject, but for those interested in whether I think Montero should be a catcher or a DH, I tackled that issue at FanGraphs today. For those who just want a summary – I can see the arguments for either decision, but I don’t think it will make a big difference in his value either way. A brutal defensive catcher isn’t really that much more valuable than a DH. Personally, I think I’d probably move him out from behind the plate, but if the M’s want to try to make it work during a season where bad catcher defense probably won’t cost them a division title, I’m okay with that too.

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