A New Hitting Coach and Other Minor News
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.