Are Lefty Relievers the New Market Inefficiency?

marc w · February 6, 2012 at 11:41 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

With the signing of Hong-Chih Kuo and the DFA of Mike Wilson, you can credibly claim that left-handed relievers make up a full 15% of the M’s 40-man roster. The M’s bullpen will see plenty of competition for innings amongst its lefty specialists, with George Sherrill and Kuo battling it out for the high-leverage innings, with Lucas Luetge around to face lefties in low-leverage situations (that a manager might actually bring in a situational reliever in low-leverage situations is exactly the problem Dave was talking about here), and Charlie Furbush to face lefty-heavy line-ups as the long man/swing starter. Cesar Jimenez may be there too, lamenting the fact that he learned a change-up and not a slider.

The addition of Shawn Camp is perhaps more baffling – a 36 year-old righty who’s seen his Ks drop in each of the past three seasons. There’s no question that he can get grounders, but without some luck in his HR prevention, he would’ve been replacement level last year. Now, Camp may be the latest journeyman to sinkerball his way to success in the M’s bullpen, following Roy Corcoran, Jamey Wright and David Pauley, but middle-relief wasn’t a problem last year. Not only did the M’s post a respectable bullpen ERA/FIP in 2011, they had one of the best ground-ball rates in the league.

Ultimately, I’m not concerned with these specific moves – Kuo was unbelievably, historically awesome in 2010, and Camp’s been a reliable, durable guy in the Blue Jays bullpen for years. I’m also sure it’s not a matter of consciously focusing on acquiring relievers, and that the team would say that Kuo/Camp just sort of fell into their laps. But ultimately, I’ve got two problems with that. First, it’s a horrible metaphor. Aside from the improbability of it all, what on earth would compel you to offer an employment contract to the interloper if it DID happen? Second, all of this welcome competition in the ‘pen means less competition amongst the position players. You know, where the M’s could seriously use some competence competition.

Mike Wilson is probably a AAAA player, but there’s a chance he could be useful as a bench bat versus lefties. You’re absolutely right that “questionable left fielders” was the one spot more oversubscribed than “LOOGY” on the M’s roster, but frankly I’d rather see more debate and argument at that position. Sure, Wilson is something like a poor man’s Caspar Wells, but given the latter’s balance issues, maybe it’s handy to have one or two of those around. Ultimately, this is really an argument about two things. First, the automatic assumption that a team that’s not scored 600 runs since 2009 needs a seven-man bullpen. Second, that the M’s aren’t focused on wringing every run they can out of the current roster. The team correctly identified 3B as a position of weakness, and instead of picking up a Russ Canzler (who suddenly became one of the most talked about players of the off-season), they signed Carlos Guillen – someone not medically cleared to push paper, let alone Kyle Seager. Canzler may not offer much of an upgrade over Vinnie Catricala, the M’s corner-something (LF? 3B? 1B?) prospect, and if that’s the reasoning, so be it. I’m all for the M’s using guys like Catricala this year. He’s on the 40-man and Guillen isn’t. So why do I feel like the M’s might go with Guillen over Catricala and/or Luis Rodriguez?

If any team is in a position to buck the trend and go with a bigger bench, it’s the M’s. They’ve got depth in the back of the rotation, with guys like Erasmo Ramirez and Forrest Snow on hand if Hisashi Iwakuma re-injures his shoulder or if Hector Noesi/Blake Beavan falters. They have 5 very solid relievers in Sherrill, League, Kelley, Wilhelmsen and Ruffin, which doesn’t even count the electric but troubled Kuo. They also have relief prospects in the high minors with Stephen Pryor and Snow, and they’ve got some talent in SP roles who could help out if need be – Carter Capps, Charlie Furbush, Brandon Maurer, etc. The M’s don’t need to carry so much of that depth on the active roster, though. Instead, they could focus on match-ups at the plate – they could put some of the youngsters in a position to succeed by getting them PAs against opposite-handed pitchers, and they could deploy John Jaso, Caspar Wells, or Vinnie Catricala for a late-game pinch hitting role. Mike Wilson doesn’t seem like much, but right now the M’s have Chih-Hsien Chang, Johermyn Chavez, Carlos Peguero, Trayvon Robinson and Michael Saunders on the 40-man. I’m all for quality over quantity, but in the absence of bankable quality, can we at least have a decent quantity of hitters and not relievers?


17 Responses to “Are Lefty Relievers the New Market Inefficiency?”

  1. The_Waco_Kid on February 7th, 2012 1:37 am

    Agreed. But I figured there was no chance of a 6-man bullpen once they got Sherrill.

  2. Dave on February 7th, 2012 6:35 am

    Mike Wilson is terrible and Catricala is better off playing everyday than spending time as a 200-300 AB platoon guy before he’s ever seen Triple-A.

  3. Mariners35 on February 7th, 2012 7:18 am

    Stockpiling arms in advance of a minor trade?

  4. MrZDevotee on February 7th, 2012 7:38 am

    I think Dave’s right… Keeping Wilson is the equivalent of stockpiling 6.00+ ERA pitchers, who can K minor leaguers but get lit up for 2+ HR per 9 innings in the Bigs.

    In this instance, I’d rather take a flyer on a potential “best reliever in baseball” than ANOTHER flyer on the same AAAA, 10 year minor leaguer.

    Or a more immediate angle– the odds of Kuo preventing runs are probably greater than the odds of Wilson creating them.

  5. Paul B on February 7th, 2012 8:12 am

    While I wouldn’t go so far as to say Mike Wilson is “terrible” (Dave always goes for the absolutes in cases like this), I would point out that the Mariners drafted him in 2001 (!)

    He’s had 767 AB in AAA, and 1058 AB in AA.

    The Mariners have certainly had lots of opportunities over the years to give him a shot. The fact that they haven’t says it is time for him to try somewhere else. And if he ever amounts to anything more than a platoon/4th Outfielder/replacement level hitter, it says something about the Mariner talent evaluation.

  6. stevemotivateir on February 7th, 2012 8:29 am

    It actually surprised me that Wilson was kept around as long as he was. You’re not really giving up a bat for an arm in a move like this. Wilson was never going to be a starting outfielder for the M’s. I doubt he had much of a chance as a bench-bat either.

    Totally agree with about quality and the current players we have. Really don’t see any of those names mentioned as having a real role with the M’s. It’s a pity Saunders couldn’t/can’t figure things out with the bat.

  7. Dave on February 7th, 2012 9:22 am

    ZIPS projects Wilson to hit .227/.301/.370 in the big leagues next year. As a guy who is more DH than LF, that is the definition of terrible. That’s not even replacement level. Wilson is useless.

  8. vertigoman on February 7th, 2012 9:43 am

    I don’t think Wilson is terrible but I can’t mourn his absence from the 40 either.
    It seems like every spring training game I’ve seen has featured Mike Wilson in left or right or DH. Every year we ask eeach other, “Who’s the line backer out in left?”And of coarse someone like Morban was also in the lineup.

  9. bat guano on February 7th, 2012 9:50 am

    Kuo and Camp have to have a lot more value than Wilson. Somebody’s bullpen will implode in the first half of the season and it will be nice to have a stockpile of relievers available so we can trade one for a position prospect with more promise than Wilson.

  10. TumwaterMike on February 7th, 2012 10:20 am

    Somebody’s bullpen will implode in the first half of the season and it will be nice to have a stockpile of relievers available so we can trade one for a position prospect with more promise than Wilson.

    I feel the same way. It’s good to have the extra pieces available.

  11. formerstarQB16 on February 7th, 2012 10:25 am

    However crazy it might sound, I think the new market inefficiency is young power hitters. Forget price for a second and just consider the tremendous lack of supply. There are very few guys out there who can regularly put up 30+ HR’s a year. The fact that we have been able to add two players in the past two years with the potential to do so, is pretty spectacular.

    Young talented pitching, however, is quickly becoming a flooded marketplace.

  12. ivan on February 7th, 2012 10:46 am

    IMO Mariners35 has nailed it. Wilson is irrelevant, and so is Gimenez. Look at recent history. David Pauley was a useful trade chip. Mark Lowe was a useful trade chip. Josh Lueke was a useful trade chip. Sean Green was a useful trade chip. Aaron Heilman was a useful trade chip.

    Scouting is key here. Could it be that Jack is adding relievers who he knows Wedge can use in situations where their strong points will be maximized, and their weak points minimized, so that the M’s can showcase them to teams that might need arms in a hurry?

    This isn’t so far-fetched. Casey Stengel used to do this all the time. He even knew what qualities individual scouts valued. Earl Weaver was a master at this. He knew which players he wanted to trade to which teams.

    Another trade is coming, and it will involve a reliever. Maybe someone previously on the roster, maybe one of the new additions. This is all part of the groundwork.

  13. bat guano on February 7th, 2012 11:37 am

    And don’t forget that Safeco is built to make pitchers look better than they are. Even though potential trade partners know that, it’s still difficult to tell if the apparent improvement of a given pitcher is real or not. Look at how differently Fister and Pauley fared after they went to Detroit. Plus it’s easier to get a free agent pitcher to sign here because they know the park will make them look good. More than for most teams, it makes sense for the M’s to stockpile pitching in order to later trade arms for bats.

  14. greentunic on February 7th, 2012 11:41 am

    I hope you’re right ivan, Mariners35. It certainly feels better to consider all “meh” to “meh+” transactions as direct actions towards a larger plan.

    I guess adding more assets is never a bad thing as long as it doesn’t limit cash flexibility, and no moves have done that at all this offseason.

    I’m just ready for the season to start.

  15. sexymarinersfan on February 7th, 2012 12:26 pm

    It sucks that it had to be Mike Wilson, but this is a business. I love the depth we have at pitcher this year. Build on the strength of your team, make it even stronger if you can. Develop your youth. If you have to trade a youngster ala Pineda to get a bat in here, then do it. Seems to be the only legitimate way that’s ever going to happen, at least until we start winning.

    Smoak, Ackley, Montero, Wells, (healthy)Gutierrez, and Carp is a lot better than Cust, Bradley, Saunders, Figgins, and J. Wilson to start the season. I can’t wait to get down to Spring Training.

  16. goat on February 7th, 2012 12:29 pm

    The Mariners said they weren’t going to trade Brandon League last summer. Maybe having more experience in the bullpen makes everyone more expendable.

  17. vertigoman on February 8th, 2012 10:37 am

    “This has happened before, it will happen again”-6 from BSG

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