A New Hitting Coach and Other Minor News

marc w · October 22, 2012 at 3:15 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

1: Welcome back, Dave Hansen! The 3B/pinch-hitter played for the M’s in 2004 after being acquired from the Padres in the Jeff Cirillo deal, then moved back to San Diego in exchange for groundballing reliever Jon Huber, then signed with the M’s in the off-season. Before he could be swayed by San Diego’s charms yet again, he retired after the 2005 season. Since then, he’s moved up the coaching ranks and spent the past year and a half as the hitting coach for the LA Dodgers.

The quotes in Divish’s story talk about his clear vision for hitting, and the new/old beat writer elaborated on that philosophy, saying that Hansen believes in “putting pressure on the defense” and “getting on base any way possible.” This is all boiler plate stuff, but there’s not a lot we can do to evaluate hitting coaches using statistics. The Dodgers were a bad hitting team before Hansen, and they were a bad hitting team this year. Hansen had a front-row seat to Matt Kemp’s emergence as an elite bat, but it’s not clear that he caused it. He watched Dee Gordon and James Loney regress, but that’s similarly difficult to lay at Hansen’s feet.

I have no idea if Hansen’s “good” or “bad” at his job, and I don’t even know that Hansen will be the only person in the job; many MLB teams are hiring multiple hitting coaches, and I wouldn’t be shocked if the M’s joined their ranks. Ultimately though, the M’s need to maximize the value of their erstwhile young core, and Chris Chambliss simply couldn’t get through to Dustin Ackley or Justin Smoak. If Hansen does, that’s awesome. If he doesn’t, I’ll be writing a post just like this one a year from now.

2: The M’s are looking to hire a permanent partner for Rick Rizzs on the radio side of the broadcast. For the past two years, the M’s have rotated several people though as partners for Rizzs, including Ken Levine, Dan Wilson, Dave Henderson, Jay Buhner and Rainiers announcer Mike Curto. According to Larry Stone, the M’s are now looking to select one person to work with Rizzs; the TV combo of Dave Sims and Mike Blowers would remain. I don’t think it’s a secret that we’re in Curto’s camp, and that the long-time minor league announcer deserves a full-time gig with the M’s. I’m not sure that’s the direction the M’s will go, as the M’s may want an ex-player to fill the standard “color commentator” role, but who knows. Ken Wilson was warmly received by many M’s fans, so the “play by play/color” combination isn’t mandatory. We’ll see – the M’s have said that they’d like to name Rizzs’ partner by mid-January.

3: The M’s 40-man roster’s full right now, but with several free-agents-to-be, they’ve got some room on it. That’s good, because they’ll need some flexibility as they move through the off-season. The Red Sox added several players in their blockbuster deal with LA, and are thus in the position where they can’t protect as many prospects as they’d like in the upcoming Rule 5 draft.

The M’s situation is easier, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have any hard decisions coming up. Basically, high-school players drafted in 2008 and college players drafted in 2009 need to be added to the 40-man roster or they could be claimed by any other MLB team in the Rule 5 draft. The M’s didn’t take many high-schoolers in 2008, but the 2009 draft class is going to be tough. The M’s took 11 straight college players from their 2nd rounder (Rich Poythress) to their 12th round pick (Andrew Carraway).

In general, teams may try to protect marginal pitchers more than marginal hitters because it’s easier for a team to stash a pitcher at the back of the bullpen and get them through the Rule 5 process – the M’s just did this with Lucas Luetge, who turned into a pretty important member of the big league bullpen. That’s good news for guys like Carraway and Bobby LaFromboise, and it means that it’s likely that the M’s may leave a guy like Vinnie Catricala, Poythress, or James Jones unprotected. As I mentioned before, the Arizona Fall League’s quite useful for teams to get a last look at some of these guys before they have to make a decision – LaFromboise and Catricala are getting a chance to make their case for the 40-man, and Danny Farquhar’s doing the same in Venezuela. We haven’t even touched on the international free agent signings who may need to be added – guys like Anthony Fernandez or Mario Martinez.

We’ll have another post on the 40-man and the Rule 5 draft soon, but we can see some of the battles for the last few spots developing now. Stefen Romero’s hitting well in Arizona, and though he’s not eligible for the Rule 5 draft, if he hits his way onto the roster as a bench bat, well, that’s one less spot for someone else. A trade could open up another slot or two, but the M’s are in a position where they’d likely by adding major league talent and giving up (non-40 man) prospects. That’s going to squeeze the roster as well. Again, the M’s are in a different position to Boston, and they can easily clear a half a dozen spots without a lot of trouble. But it’s actually kind of encouraging that they’re going to face some tough decisions over the next month or so.

4: The Athletics completed a notable trade with the Diamondbacks this weekend. The A’s add to their OF depth by picking up CF Chris Young at the bargain-basement price of SS Cliff Pennington and minor-league tools project Yordy Cabrera. Young’s basically the template for an underrated player, in that he plays good defense, draws some walks and has some power (but isn’t an elite HR hitter), and generally has a low batting average. After two four-plus win seasons, Young slumped to an injury-addled 2.8 this year – impressive for a player who only got into 101 games after a major shoulder injury.

As Jack Moore talked about on Fangraphs, Young may have been rushed back following that injury, as he was hitting like Chris Young the pitcher for two months. Then, after the break, he went on an extended (168 PAs) run where he hit like he did in his 2008-11 peak. Is he “fixed” now? Will his power still play after moving from one of the most HR-friendly parks in the league to one of the league’s pitching havens? I don’t know, but I really wonder what it would’ve taken for the M’s to grab Young. Pennington hit like Brendan Ryan this year, and while the D-Backs need a shortstop, it’s not clear what he offers them above defensive-whiz John McDonald or Willie Bloomquist (yes, a post on USSM is comparing Bloomquist favorably to a guy traded for a starting MLB CF). I’ve been pessimistic about Pennington since his PCL days, so I understand that others may see him as a bounce-back candidate following a good 2010 campaign and a bad BABIP in 2012. While his raw stats may improve, I’m just not sold that Pennington’s a starter, and I’m stunned that a tweener like him pried Chris Young away.

The Diamondbacks have been shopping their two LFs all off-season, and I would hope that Zduriencik’s calling Kevin Towers hourly about Gerardo Parra or Jason Kubel. I’m not sure how the Diamondbacks evaluate OFs, but the M’s should try to get a deal done. They can use the Minnesota Twins as leverage by targeting Josh Willingham at the same time. The Twins have a great OF prospect waiting in the wings, and they’re desperate for pitching. Jason Churchill talked about a potential deal for the prospect, Oswaldo Arcia, at BP here, but it may be easier for everyone if the M’s take Willingham instead, thereby opening a spot for the younger, cheaper, Arcia. Willingham’s signed to a relatively inexpensive deal and just put up a very good year, so he wouldn’t come cheap, but either Kubel, Willingham or Parra could help improve the Mariners 2013 team without the risk of a long-term contract. This isn’t about penny-pinching, it’s about timing. A long-term free agent deal would be great if the M’s actually knew which home-grown players they could build around. For the past two years, the answer’s been clear: Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak. This year, those two combined for -25 batting runs. A long-term deal wouldn’t cripple the team, but it would start to look pretty superfluous if Ackley and Smoak aren’t the cogs in the next competitive M’s line-up.


16 Responses to “A New Hitting Coach and Other Minor News”

  1. Slats on October 22nd, 2012 4:30 pm

    What about Josh Bard’s brother as hitting coach?!

  2. Westside guy on October 22nd, 2012 5:04 pm

    Interesting stuff, Marc. I am really wondering what the M’s are going to do with their own 40-man dilemma. Does Robinson and/or Carp go away? What about Peguero – he has an option, but does it really make sense to keep him and expose a younger guy who probably has better odds of making it?

    (Note that “better” is relative – the odds are still against a lot of these guys)

  3. eddie on October 22nd, 2012 5:39 pm

    I think it was Tim McCarver who opined (I think that’s the word Tim McCarver would use) about how teams should employ two hitting coaches, one for right handed batters, and one for left handed batters. That makes some sense to me why not? And maybe another one for switch hitters.

    As much as I don’t like Rizzs, I like Curto and I hope they give him the job. Rizzs is good with play by play, but his homerism and his ranting are hard to deal with. He’s mercifully let up a little with the rants, but still, if he just would call the play and not worry about anything else he WOULD have been HOF.

  4. Liam on October 22nd, 2012 6:26 pm

    When teams are spending $100M+ on payroll why not have a dozen hitting coaches?

  5. Milendriel on October 22nd, 2012 7:24 pm

    What I’m wondering is, why do teams hire former players as hitting coaches, especially ones who had mediocre careers? It seems like it’d make a lot more sense to have an experienced scout be the hitting coach–someone who can actually identify problem components in a swing.

  6. Jordan on October 22nd, 2012 7:42 pm

    I’m confused as to why you care what happens to any of those guys. As much as any fan, it’s clear you understand the odds are seemingly against any of them making meaningful, sustained contributions at the major league level. So why do we care if we have to roll the dice with other AAAA players and risk Robinson, Carp, Peguero et. al. doing this elsewhere?

    Hopefully, after the winter meetings we’ll have a large turnover with regards to many of these fringe players.

    For me it is clear none of these players belong on a contender right now, and if this is in fact the intended process and direction of the Mariners, then what happens to these players does not matter. Z seems to be decent enough at recycling AAAA talent. The first step to making the Mariners a contender is raising the floor and establishing mediocrity. We don’t need to worry about the last 5 on the 40 man.

  7. Westside guy on October 22nd, 2012 8:04 pm

    Jordan, the reason I “care what happens to any of those guys” is exactly why you state you don’t. 😀 I don’t think any of them belong on a real roster, and the fact that they’re still around says something, I believe, about ours – and, more importantly, about our organization.

    Jack Zduriencik has yet to show himself as someone who’s willing to take risks, to prune out the non-thriving or dead wood to give new shoots a chance to sprout and grow (or to graft new branches onto the tree). What he chooses to do – or NOT to do – regarding these AAAA guys affects his ability or willingness to make the moves necessary for this team to even have a chance to rise above mediocrity.

  8. 9inningknowitall on October 22nd, 2012 8:06 pm

    I have to admit I’m more excited for this off season than I have been for a few years. Last year had the surprise trade that I really liked and I’m just hoping for nice moves this off season.

  9. _Hutch_ on October 22nd, 2012 9:40 pm

    Willingham would be a good addition but the thought of trading legitimate pieces for him after passing on him during last year’s free agent season only watch him sign a really reasonable contract and put up a .890 OPS in a cavernous home park is frustrating.

  10. maqman on October 23rd, 2012 2:31 am

    Willingham would be a good get. He put up 3.9 fWAR this past season, the same as Nick Swisher and is signed for the next two seasons at $7MM each, with no buyout. As Target field is a pitchers park he should not be hurt as much by Safeco as Yankee or Arizona players.

    After getting Young Billy Beane stated that his acquisition would probably impact their resigning of Jonny Gomes. Gomes put up 2.1 fWAR and 18 dingers in 333 PAs at Oakland’s large stadium, on a $1MM contract.

  11. stevemotivateir on October 23rd, 2012 10:39 am

    This is a very interesting post. Thanks once again, Marc. The Hansen signing isn’t such a big deal to me. I think it probably was a good signing. Never thought about the team possibly signing another hitting instructor, though. Makes sense. Some of these players need all the tips they can get. Especially in the case of Ackley, Smoak, and Ryan.

    I’m on board with Curto as well. I would argue that he has more “color” than he’s given credit for. Doesn’t have the gift of BSing that Henderson has, but that’s ok;)

    The trade for Young caught me off-guard. Partially because of the timing, partially because of the cost. How does Z miss on opportunities like that? Or maybe the question is, how does he pass on them? I just hope Jack has a strong list of targets on his dart board and can hit on some of them.

  12. msfanmike on October 23rd, 2012 2:52 pm

    “How does Z miss on opportunities like that?”

    Jack didn’t have a below average hitting SS to part with. He has a well below average hitting SS to start the season with, instead.

    Yes, I know … Ryan is way, way above average defensively. Maybe even the best. It’s just a better sounding retort (IMO) if it doesn’t contain too many facts.

    Regardless, it appears as if Beane stole the trade from Arizona, but Jack can find a better player. Maybe not for ‘nothing’ – like Beane did, but he can find a better player than Young.

  13. stevemotivateir on October 23rd, 2012 4:14 pm

    I agree, Mike. And I appreciate the humor 😉 But until I see the M’s land better players, it will sting a little any time a division rival makes a good move.

  14. qwerty on October 23rd, 2012 4:41 pm

    Serious question: Why even have a hitting coach? Have the mgr/3b/1b coach do it.

  15. Mid80sRighty on October 23rd, 2012 4:44 pm

    Milendriel –
    The reason I always heard, as to why lesser players become coaches, is because they usually had to work harder than players with more talent. That, and they spent a good deal of time on the bench watching a lot. I don’t know if that makes them better coaches or not, but that’s the story I heard through my years of playing.

    I agree, though, that scouts could probably make pretty good coaches. They’ve obviously watched a lot of players and SHOULD have a good eye as to what makes a good ball player.

  16. stevemotivateir on October 23rd, 2012 4:58 pm


    Do you really think Wedge would make a good mentor for hitting? You realize, this is the same guy who benched Jaso considerably, right?

    All the coaches spend time with the players, offering tips and advice. But they still need specialists who can really focus in/on a specific area -especially hitting. Some issues aren’t necessarily noticeable right away and take time to analyze.

    Datz is actually the catchers coach as well, if I’m not mistaken.

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