As we head toward the winter meetings, there’s few questions that the Mariners are going to try to do something fairly significant. They’ve made it clear that they have money to spend, they have young players to trade, and they have a glaring hole in the outfield that needs addressing. You can bet that they’ve called on Justin Upton, they’ve talked to Nick Swisher‘s agent, and they’ve kicked pretty much every big free agent tire they can find.
But, as Jack is fond of saying, it takes two to tango, and it’s possible that Swisher might end up in Boston, the D’Backs might not want what the Mariners have to sell, and that for various reasons, the team might not be able to land anyone who would be seen as a major addition. I’m not rooting for this outcome, but the organization at least needs to have backup plans in place, and be able to make moves to upgrade the roster even if they’re not as impactful as the ones they’re hoping to be able to make.
So, with that in mind, here are a few guys that I wouldn’t be surprised to see the organization go after if their original options fall through. These guys are more short term stopgaps than long term solutions, but they would have some appeal in terms of upgrading the 2013 team, at least theoretically.
Mike Morse, 1B/DH/cover-your-eyes-OF
You may remember Morse as an underpowered guy who couldn’t defend even a corner OF position and got shipped off because the Mariners had a similar prospect in Matt Tuiasasopo. Of course, Morse went to Washington and started hitting for power, so swapping him for Ryan Langerhans doesn’t look so hot in retrospect. But, after yesterday’s acquisition of Denard Span, the Nationals are now shopping Morse, as he no longer fits into their plans. They’ve put up with his horrific outfield defense long enough, and between the injury problems and his awful approach at the plate, they’re not convinced that he’s a championship caliber first baseman. So, rather than pay him $7 million to be a pinch-hitter in the final year of his contract, they’re looking to see if anyone else wants to take him off their hands.
Morse isn’t a great fit for the Mariners in that he’s something of a clone of what they already have, but if the organization wants to bring in a guy to challenge but not completely displace Justin Smoak, Morse could be a 1B/DH/occasional OF option. In terms of overall profile, he’s basically Jesus Montero — an overly aggressive right-handed hitter with opposite field power and no real defensive value. He has more present power than Montero at the moment, though, and is a better bet to be able to defend first base in 2013, so adding him to the 1B/DH mix would give the team another option if they wanted to continue to mix and match. He’s more of a depth guy than an impact player, but the price to acquire him won’t be overly high, and his $7 million price tag for 2013 isn’t especially onerous. I’m not a big fan, and I don’t think he should ever play the outfield again, but he wouldn’t be the worst guy to have around for 400-500 plate appearances if they want someone to push Montero and Smoak.
Jason Kubel, 1B/DH/cover-your-eyes OF
Meet the left-handed version of Mike Morse. He’s also an adventure in the outfield without the kind of bat that makes that worth it, so he profiles better as a 1B/DH type. He’s got a better approach at the plate than Morse does, but he doesn’t have the same kind of power, so it’s more of a trade-off than an improvement. And, like Morse, he’s got one year left on his contract, which pays him $7.5 million in 2013 and then includes a team option for 2014. Kubel’s got a better track record than Morse, and the D’Backs don’t have the same need to dump him, so he’d probably cost a little bit more in trade, but we’re still not talking about a guy who would cost you a premier prospect here. If the M’s wanted a left-handed platoon guy who could fit in at 1B/DH and play some OF on days when a groundballer was on the mound, Kubel’s not the worst player ever. Which is about the nicest thing I can say about him.
Ryan Ludwick, OF
If the M’s would rather just sign a short-term guy rather than trade for one, then Ludwick’s probably in the mix. He had a career resurgence last year in Cincinnati, but given that he’s going to be 34 next year, he’s not in line for any kind of long term deal. The Reds want him back but the bidding probably isn’t going beyond a two year deal, and he might not even get that. As a dead pull right-hander, he’d have to hope that the fences coming in at Safeco were going to make a huge difference, and he probably doesn’t have fond memories of the place from his days in the AL, but if the M’s are the highest bidder, that can all be water under the bridge. My guess is he comes in at around the same annual salary as Morse/Kubel, so you’re looking at the trade-off between giving him an extra year versus giving up some kind of player to acquire either of the other two.
Shin-Soo Choo, OF
I’m putting him near the bottom even though he’s the best player on this list because he’s also the least likely to be a fit for the team. The Indians are willing to trade him because he’ll be a free agent next year and Scott Boras doesn’t generally do contract extensions prior to hitting the market, so any team paying for Choo has to look at him as a rental. But, because he’s the Indians best hitter, they’re not just going to give him away. He’d cost a real prospect – probably someone like James Paxton. And, with only one year of value coming back, given his platoon issues and declining defensive skills, that’s probably not a price I’d want to pay. Of course, if the Indians come down in terms of what they want in return, then maybe this is a better fit than expected, but I’m not holding my breath.
Travis Hafner, DH
This is still the guy I’d go after. He’s not a full-time player, and you just deal with the fact that he’s going to spend half the year on the DL, but when he plays, he hits. He can’t defend even first base, so he’s a DH-only, but if the organization is willing to get more serious about Montero as a first baseman, then they don’t really need another 1B, since they can make Montero and Smoak fight for playing time at that spot. In terms of impact at the plate, Hafner is pretty similar to Swisher, and obviously he’ll cost a lot less. If you’re willing to trade the defensive versatility and the durability for some upside when he is able to go, then Hafner could be a pretty nice bargain. And, of course, as a DH-only, the market for his services is going to be limited, which will keep the bidding down, so he’s probably the cheapest guy on this list too. At $3 or $4 million with some playing time incentives, Hafner could be a nice part-time offensive booster.
Preface – there are some really good reporters covering Major League Baseball, and they have really good sources and they get really good information. Ken Rosenthal and Jon Heyman seem to break about 90% of the stories in Major League Baseball between them, and there are countless other guys in local markets who are really well plugged into their organizations and provide accurate information a great majority of the time.
But, unfortunately, not all reporters are created equal, and not all anonymous sources are as good as others. And, because of the way the baseball rumor industry works, it’s often hard to tell a rumor that has substance behind it from one that is speculation, spin, or just out-and-out wrong.
For instance, over the last week, we’ve seen stories that Mike Napoli has three year offers out from multiple clubs, and we’ve seen stories that Mike Napoli doesn’t have any offers from any clubs. We’ve seen stories that the Orioles are working hard on a deal with Mark Reynolds to avoid having to non-tender him before Friday’s deadline to offer arbitration, and we’ve seen stories that the Orioles haven’t had any contact with Reynolds’ representatives to discuss a 2013 contract. Today, we saw reports that the Mets most recent offer to David Wright made it possible that a deal could get done this week, and then David Wright and his agent both felt it necessary to issue a public statement that no deal was close and that the reports were inaccurate.
Obviously, some of these reports have to fall in the just “flat out wrong” category, as they can’t all be true. There are others that are more ambiguous, and are some shade of true, but might not really reflect the reality of the situation. And, of course, some are right on. For instance, Ken Rosenthal was saying for a few weeks that the Royals acquisition of Ervin Santana could lead them to sign Jeremy Guthrie to a backloaded three year deal, which is exactly what they did. He clearly had good information on that, and it’s why he’s probably the best in the business at the rumor game right now.
Not everyone is Ken Rosenthal, though, and not even Rosenthal gets everything right every time. And that’s why I’d suggest that you filter all of the rumors you’re going to see over the next week or so through the BS detector. Those rumors that the Mariners are heavily in on Russell Martin? I’m sure the Mariners called him, and on a one year deal, he’d make some sense in the same way Mike Napoli would, but the organization isn’t going to be committing long term to a catcher whose bat doesn’t play at another position. Giving Mike Zunino a veteran mentor for spring training and a guy who can hold down the fort for 2013 is one thing – signing a guy who is clearly going to want a full-time job behind the plate for the next three to four years is something else entirely.
So, why are the Mariners linked to a guy like Martin? Because pretty much every rumor about the Mariners is sourced from someone not working for the Mariners. The M’s front office is famously tight-lipped, and they just don’t really leak anything in advance. No one knew the Pineda trade was going down. No one knew the Ichiro trade was going down. They just happened, with no forewarning, and no real notice.
Rumors about the Mariners almost always come from player agents or baseball operations officials who work for other teams. Sometimes, these guys have legitimately good information about what the M’s are going to do, and sometimes, they share that information with the media. Not every rumor about the organization is BS. But you have to remember where they came from, and judge accordingly.
For instance, Russell Martin’s agent is incentivized to make it appear that his client is heavily in demand from multiple organizations. The Yankees want him back, but the Yankees also only want to sign one year contracts this winter, as they’re attempting to clear the books next year to get under the luxury tax threshold and reset their tax rate for future years. If Martin wants a multi-year deal from New York, his agent needs to give the Yankees a reason to give them multiple years. And, with all due respect to the Pirates, they’re not exactly the biggest stick in the drawer.
The Mariners, though, can theoretically represent a real stick. Ownership has publicly said that payroll is going up. They haven’t fielded a good offensive team in years. Everyone and their mother knows that the Mariners called every single free agent hitter on the market to express some degree of interest. And, if you’re just looking at the organization from an outsider’s perspective, the team has a hole at catcher, since regular starter Miguel Olivo won’t be back in 2013.
The necessary pieces are there for the Mariners to act as leverage to get more money from other teams. I’m not saying that’s why Mike Napoli’s agent shipped him up to Seattle for a visit, but the very public nature of his tour has a nice whiff of grandstanding, especially in light of the fact that the Rangers didn’t even make Napoli a qualifying offer. It’s tough to argue that they’re a serious threat to give him a multi-year contract when they wouldn’t even give him $13 million on a one year deal, and the only other city he’s visited was Boston — the spot that most people expected him to land heading into the winter. Without that trip to Seattle, though, Napoli’s basically got the Red Sox bidding against a Rangers team that has, to some extent, already showed its hand. They’ll take Napoli back, but at a reduced price and only after they’ve explored other options. That’s not really the kind of pressure that starts a bidding war.
Getting the Mariners involved, though – that puts some pressure on the Red Sox. I’m not saying the trip was entirely grandstanding for Boston’s benefit, or even that it was primarily that, but you can’t discount that benefit to Napoli’s camp. Just like you can’t discount the benefit to Martin’s camp that the Mariners are interested in him too. And that you can’t discount the benefit to the Mariners in negotiating with Napoli if his agent thinks that they see Martin as a legitimate alternative.
This is how this all works. Leaks are intentional, and often are intended for public use to serve a specific purpose. Most leaks about the Mariners don’t even come from the Mariners. Usually, when the Mariners are about to do something significant of note, no one has any idea until it’s basically done.
So, don’t get too worked up about what Jack is doing talking to Russell Martin’s agent, when Martin is seeking a four year contract and only fits behind the plate. Just laugh it off, and realize that these rumors are frequently used as motivational tools for the benefit of others, and are sometimes just out and out wrong.
The Mariners are going to do some stuff this winter. I’m willing to bet a significant amount of money that the stuff they’re going to do will not include signing Russell Martin to a long term contract. Some rumors just don’t pass the BS test. Don’t take them too seriously.
Just less than one year ago, the Angels sent shockwaves through the baseball world by negotiating a long-term cable TV deal worth nearly $3 billion, and by signing two big free agents to (back loaded) contracts. The Rangers topped that with a $3 billion deal of their own, spread over 15 years. The Mariners, whose 10-year, $450 million deal with Fox Sports (now ROOT Sports) was one of the most lucrative in the game at the time, suddenly looked indigent in comparison.
As you’ve probably heard now, the Dodgers just inked a new deal with Fox Sports worth between 6 and 7 billion – a deal which obliterated the previous record, and seems to justify every penny of the Guggenheim Group’s $2 billion deal to purchase the Dodgers from Frank McCourt. There are a number of rational responses to this, from lamenting the gap between rich- and poor teams, as Jeff Passan does here,* to counting the days until the M’s window to renegotiate their current deal opens, to making comparisons with tulip bulbs and the US housing market. This post is mostly the latter.
Over the last few days, a couple of rumors have kicked up in regards to the Mariners. Not surprisingly, both involve the team acquiring a hitter, because, well, you know. It’s no secret the M’s want to improve their offense this winter, and every other team, agent, and writer in America knows that too. Teams with hitters available are going to call the Mariners. Agents with hitters available are going to call the Mariners. The Mariners are going to call them all back. Rumors are inevitable, which is why you shouldn’t take most of them too seriously.
These two, though, maybe you should take a little more seriously than others.
Let’s start with the Mike Napoli rumors, which have a little more teeth. On Thursday, Jim Bowden reported that Napoli was holding out for a four year contract from the Red Sox, and he might be able to get it from the Mariners. On Friday, Ryan Divish noted that Napoli has indeed already met with the Mariners, which goes beyond just the “hey, don’t sign without checking in with us” phone call that they made to every free agent hitter with a pulse. A meeting means that there’s enough mutual interest there that something could happen.
There are a few potential problems with a Napoli/Mariners get together, however. While Napoli’s calling card is his power, his primary position is still catcher — he’s caught 500+ innings every year since his rookie season of 2006 — and reports suggest that Napoli is looking for a team who will continue to deploy him behind the plate with regularity. The Mariners could use a 2013 part-time right-handed catcher who can mash if they’re ready to give up on Jesus Montero behind the plate — as I think they should be — but no one is suggesting that Napoli is interested in coming to Seattle on a one year deal. If Boston is willing to go three years, then the Mariners probably aren’t getting him for less than four, and if Napoli views himself as a catcher beyond 2013, that could create some problems in Seattle.
Obviously, Mike Zunino made a lot of noise this summer, and while you could justify giving him a full year in Tacoma, you don’t really want to block your best prospects path to the big leagues by giving out a long term deal to a 31-year-old who is already showing signs of decline. If Napoli is interested in coming to Seattle, it would have to be pretty clear that he’d be looking at a 1B/DH job for most of his time here, and his days at catcher would be winding down after this season. That’s not a great sales pitch, though, especially when the other team reportedly bidding for his services can point to The Green Monster and a much better history of winning. Napoli knows he’s going to spend a decent amount of his time at 1B/DH no matter where signs, but if he’s serious about staying behind the plate as more than a backup beyond this coming season, the M’s could run into a problem when Zunino is ready for the Majors.
And, realistically, even if he’s totally on board for 2013 being his last season as a catcher, there’s still a roster issue if you bring him as a 1B/DH. With John Jaso and Jesus Montero, the team already has a couple of their better offensive performers locked into C/1B/DH positions. If you sign Napoli, one of them is out of a job as soon as Zunino is ready. Yeah, Jaso’s probably a platoon player coming off a career year, and Montero’s still got a ways to go before he’s an impact big league hitter, but there’s a difference between upgrading on a glaring weakness like the team has in the outfield and upgrading on a position where the team already has viable alternatives. The cost of doing the latter is simply higher.
If the Mariners could turn around and flip Montero for something interesting at another position, maybe it’s worth doing. It’s no secret that I’m not as high on him as a lot of others are, so I’m not dead set against replacing him, but the overall series of moves would have to make sense. They’d either have to have a deal in place that isn’t selling low on him coming off a bad rookie season, or make it a shorter term move that allowed him to go back to Tacoma, learn how to play first base, and rejoin the team in 2014 as a better player. On a one year deal, that situation is kind of interesting. On a longer term contract, though, you’re punting one of your best offensive talents, which makes the improvement less of an upgrade.
And Napoli’s not exactly a sure thing himself. The massive spike in his strikeout rate should scare you. The fact that he only hit nine doubles last year should scare you. The fact that he’s a catcher on the wrong side of 30 should scare you. Maybe he goes Josh Willingham on the league and shows everyone that the strikeout rate wasn’t a trend, but there’s some legitimate downside to giving him a long term deal. Given his age, his body type, his skillset, and the fact that he’s already logged 4,000+ big league innings behind the plate, counting on him to be a productive player in 2014 and beyond is a gamble. At the right price, it might be a gamble worth making, but if you’re outbidding the Red Sox, it’s probably not the right price anymore.
Given the Mariners already have a bunch of C/1B/DH types, I don’t think I’m all that interested in Napoli beyond a one year deal. Texas saw him up close and personal the last two years and wouldn’t even extend him a qualifying offer for 2013. There are too many red flags here for me to be that excited about a three or four year deal for Napoli. One with a vesting option and a bunch of incentives? Okay. Maybe even two guaranteed if the price is cheap enough. But once we start talking about the age 33 or 34 season of a catcher with old player skills, I’m not real interested in paying a high price for those years.
At the opposite end of that spectrum is the never-ending rumors of a Mariners-Royals trade. No, not that weird “trade the farm for Billy Butler” idea that apparently took hold last week, which never made any sense to begin with. Instead, in the wake of the Royals signing Jeremy Gutrhie, Jerry Crasnick and others have suggested that the team is interested in swapping a minor league hitter for a “young pitcher”, as they attempt to fill out their rotation without giving up any pieces from their big league roster to do it.
The Royals have exactly one minor league hitter interesting enough to land a premium young arm, and his name is Wil Myers. In fact, Myers is a top-5 prospect in the entire sport, ranking up there with the likes of Dylan Bundy, Jurickson Profar, and Oscar Taveras. He’s a 21-year-old outfield with some serious power who held his own in Triple-A for nearly an entire season after pounding Double-A last year. He’s not a perfect prospect — he still has some contact issues, primarily — but he looks a lot like a right-handed Jay Bruce, and he could develop into an above average right fielder within a year or two, with some real star potential down the line.
Myers, of course, is exactly the kind of player the Mariners need. As an outfielder who hasn’t even made his big league debut yet, he could fill a hole on the roster without being a short term fix, and could grow with the rest of the kids already here. Unlike Zunino or the rest of the bats on the farm, he doesn’t need any more time in Triple-A. He’s ready to step in and play big league ball on Opening Day next year. He’s a prospect in the sense that he’s never made the majors, but this isn’t a kid that you need to wait for him to develop. He’s a long term asset who can also offer 2013 production. The best of both worlds.
Which is why he’s not going to be easy to get. While we talk about Walker, Hultzen, and Paxton a lot, the reality is that none of them are particularly close to being big league ready. You could dream on a guy like Paxton or Hultzen helping out in the second half if their command improves, but in reality, they’re probably more 2014 pieces. And there are teams who would be just as interested in Myers as the Mariners that have big league arms they could offer up instead of the wait-and-see kids that Jack Z can dangle.
The Rays are the obvious competition here. They’re losing B.J. Upton, so they have a hole in their outfield. They don’t have the payroll to replace him with a premium free agent, and have to rely on continually restocking the team with pre-arbitration players who can produce while making the league minimum. And they have Major League youngsters like Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore that they could offer up, both of whom already have legitimate big league experience and could step right into the Royals rotation without missing a beat.
Taijaun Walker’s a nice prospect, but he’s not Matt Moore. James Paxton isn’t Jeremy Hellickson. Danny Hultzen isn’t Jon Niese, if the Mets decided to get involved in things. And, whenever you’re talking about the Royals, you can’t count out the Braves, who are loaded with pitching talent and are Dayton Moore’s favorite trade partners, given his history with the organization. There are a bunch of teams that would want Wil Myers and can simply offer up better young pitchers than the Mariners have.
If the Mariners want Myers, the hope would have to be that the Royals also loved Nick Franklin. Putting Franklin in a deal with one of the Big Three probably keeps you in the race for Myers, even if other teams are willing to give up an arm that is a little closer to big league ready. The M’s pitch would basically be quantity over quality, or at least, enough quantity to justify the drop-off in quality.
Is Jack ready to pay that kind of price for a kid who hasn’t even seen the big leagues yet? After all, even if you just look at the prospects as wild cards whose futures can’t be predicted, they’re still essentially the only trade chips Jack really has. Regardless of whether or not you’re interested in waiting for the kids to develop, they at least have value as currency, and the organization will have to decide if Myers is the right kid to give up their only real currency in trade for.
Because if it’s not Myers, a pick two of Walker/Hultzen/Paxton/Franklin opens a lot of other doors, and if you trade two of those guys to get Myers, you’re not left with a ton of chips to make other deals. At that point, you have to be pretty confident you’re signing a decent hitting free agent, or else we could be left with a winter like last year where the only real improvement is supposed to come from a kid who just spent the year in Triple-A. Myers could be a nice addition to the team, but he’d be a nice addition that would go along with the signing of a guy like Nick Swisher, not a move that replaces that kind of upgrade.
So, in both instances, I’d suggest not holding your breath. It’s possible that the Mariners could sign Napoli and trade for Myers. Or it’s possible that Napoli could choose Boston and the Rays could simply ace the Mariners out of a deal with KC by putting Matt Moore on the table. I’m sure the Mariners are exploring their options with both Napoli and the Royals. Maybe it will lead to something. Maybe it won’t. In both cases, whether we even want it to happen depends on the price. Napoli on a one year deal? Sold. Paxton and Franklin for Myers? Sold. But, at those prices, other teams are going to be saying the same thing.
Do a happy dance – Chone Figgins is finally gone. The Mariners designated both he and recently claimed Scott Cousins for assignment, clearing them off the 40 man roster so that they could add a total of five players who otherwise would have been eligible for the Rule 5 draft. The five:
Left unprotected were LHP Brian Moran and RHP Andrew Carraway, who both could be selected and stashed in a bullpen somewhere next year. But, neither are particularly high upside guys, so even if the organization loses either one, it’s not a particularly huge deal. And, of course, they might not get selected, and if they do, they might very well get returned. So, I wouldn’t lose much sleep over it.
Especially since Figgins has finally, mercifully been DFA’d. Now the team can get back to actually using a 25 man roster again.
Well, that didn’t take long. A few hours after I said to expect a trade of Trayvon Robinson or Mike Carp, the Mariners shipped Robinson to Baltimore for infielder Robert Andino. Acquiring Andino doesn’t help them with their roster decisions today, but he can fill the utility infielder/backup SS spot on the roster, and could actually be okay in that role.
He was pretty lousy for the Orioles last year, but overall, his career numbers suggest that he’s a decent enough reserve infielder. He’s a career .235/.296/.323 hitter, which isn’t great, but he can actually play shortstop, and believe it or not, there aren’t that many big league shortstops who can post a .300 OBP anymore. For instance, last year, the Mariners gave this roster spot to Munenori Kawasaki, and you probably don’t need a reminder as to how dreadful he was.
Overall, his total package has been worth +1 WAR in 1,400 career plate appearances, so he’s marginally better than the kind of guy you’d expect to grab on waivers. He’s arbitration eligible for a second time, but given his lousy 2012 season, he won’t get much of a raise, and will probably make $1.5 to $2.0 million in salary next year. He’s not any kind of long term solution or a huge upgrade, but he’ll make the team a little bit better on days when Brendan Ryan can’t go than they were last year.
Robinson going away isn’t any kind of loss. He simply doesn’t have the kind of skillset that works in the big leagues. Low contact/low power is a bad recipe for offensive success, and Robinson’s putrid throwing arm limited to left field, so he wasn’t even capable of defending multiple positions or playing an up-the-middle spot. He’s a fifth outfielder at best, and the Mariners shouldn’t have had any interest in trying to squeeze him onto the roster this spring. Since he was out of options, they were eventually just going to pass him through waivers, so this way, they turn him into something that might be marginally useful instead.
It’s basically a lateral move, but it’s a lateral move that gives them a Major League backup SS, which they didn’t have previously. Call it the smallest of small victories.
You’re going to see the Mariners do some stuff today, as we’re at the deadline to add players to the 40 man roster who would otherwise be eligible for the Rule 5 draft. Brandon Maurer is the only absolute lock to get added, but I’d expect the team to protect a few of their reliever-types, including Bobby LaFromboise, Brian Moran, Andrew Carraway, and Anthony Fernandez. These are all low upside guys who aren’t premium prospects, but LaFromboise, Moran, and Fernandez are all left-handed, so they could pretty easily slide into a non-contender’s bullpen in a situational role, and Carraway throws enough strikes to be someone’s mop-up guy in 2013. These are the kinds of guys who get taken in the Rule 5 draft, so adding them to the 40 man is probably the best bet to keep them in the organization.
Of course, if they want to add Maurer and those four pitchers, then they’re going to have to open up two spots on the 40 man roster, which currently sits at 37. And, of course, the obvious guy on the 40 man roster to get rid of is Chone Figgins. Of course, he’s been the obvious guy to get rid of for a long time, and the organization has refused to do it, but now his presence on the roster even one more day threatens to cost them a prospect. At some point, the Mariners are just going to have to swallow their pride and pay Figgins to go away. Losing a prospect in the Rule 5 draft in order to preserve the right to do it later is silly. There’s no reason for Figgins to be on the roster anymore, and now they need his spot. This is the easiest decision Jack has to make all winter.
I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw a few others removed from the 40 man as well — in order to open up a few extra spots for guys like Vinnie Catricala or Danny Farquhar — but likely through minor trade rather than DFA. Both Mike Carp and Trayvon Robinson are out of options and unlikely to be part of the Mariners roster next year, so shipping them off for a non-roster prospect would also clear up roster spots for some additions. Keep in mind, the Mariners are going to have to clear more 40 man space if they sign a free agent, so these two are unlikely to make it through the winter, even if they aren’t traded today. Additionally, they could dump Francisco Martinez or Chance Ruffin without losing any sleep, though then they’d essentially be admitting that the Doug Fister trade was a bust, so there might be some face saving involved there as well.
Regardless, you’re going to see some stuff happen. A few guys are getting added. A few others are probably going away. Hopefully, one of those is Chone Figgins.
I try to limit my posts that are just links to my other posts, but this one pertains to the Mariners off-season plans, so it’s relevant here too, I think.
I hope you read the whole thing. If you don’t, though, here are the final two paragraphs that basically sum up my thoughts on the rebuilding process, and why I’ve been continually advocating for the team to make improvements to their roster rather than just sitting around and waiting for their prospects to develop.
There’s too much variation in baseball for teams to simply accept their most recent record as evidence of their short term future. There’s too many things that simply can’t be projected — and too much uncertainty around the things we do know — for more than one or two teams per year to simply punt the entire season and lose on purpose. Trading from the present to improve the future is one thing; trading from the present simply because we see no future is another thing entirely, and requires a level of certainty in forecasting that we simply don’t have.
If our forecast for a team is 65 to 90 wins, then making smart moves to improve the roster and increase the likelihood of getting towards that 90 win part of the bell curve could very well be a better move for the future of the franchise than blowing up the roster and accepting the ramifications of a 65 win season. Rebuilding can be the right path to take, especially if you get the kind of offer for your veterans that can inject a real talent boost into the organization. Just dumping good players because there’s no point in having veterans on a team with a mean forecast of 78 wins, though? That’s just putting too much faith in what we know. If we’re going to stress honesty, let’s honestly admit that we don’t know enough to suggest that a 78 win team should give up hope and lose on purpose.
If the M’s bring in some veterans this winter, I know there’s going to be a group of people who complain that they’re just “blocking the kids” and so forth. A decent amount of you guys complained about signing guys like Kevin Millwood last year. I get that there’s a pretty good sized crop of fans who think that a team should either be going for it or going young, and everything in between is just a waste of time.
I just think that mentality is completely wrong. There’s a real value in putting wins on the board, even if they may very well not be the wins that put the team in the playoffs. The Mariners shouldn’t look at their 2013 roster and decide that it’s not good enough to make real improvements. They should look at their 2013 roster and decide that it’s not good enough, so they should make real improvements.
Last time, we focused on James Paxton and Mike Zunino for obvious reasons, but Carson Smith’s adding his name to the discussion by dominating the AFL at times. In my last update, about a month ago, I noted that Carson Smith hadn’t really dominated like I thought he might (after a brilliant second half performance for High Desert). The following day, Smith began a dominating run, with 15 Ks and no walks in a bit over 10 innings. He gave up a pair of walks this afternoon, and his velocity was more in the 91-93 range as opposed to 92-94, but he’s demonstrated that he could be an intriguing bullpen arm for the M’s very soon.
I’d heard about Smith’s velocity, but unlike with Carter Capps or Stephen Pryor, Smith doesn’t have the pure pace to blow fastballs by hitters. Instead, he throws a very tough sinker. Brooks Baseball has some edited velocity/movement readings here, and what stands out is just how much sink Smith gets on a 93mph pitch. He’s right in line with some of the most well-known sinker-balling relievers, from Ronald Belisario (who throws a tad harder) to Sean Burnett (who throws much slower, and from the left side). Just eyeballing it, Smith seems to be a lot like Jared Hughes of the Pirates, who put together a decent year for Pittsburgh by keeping the ball on the ground and out of the zone (yes, OUT of the zone). To be sure, Hughes has been better at getting grounders, but there’s no real reason Smith couldn’t, and Smith could generate more K’s if his change-up gets a bit better. Jared Hughes isn’t an elite pitcher, but he’s quite useful, and he brings something to the table that most of the M’s bullpen doesn’t. K’s and GBs are always a great combination, and Smith’s skillset would look good in the M’s potentially dominant bullpen, where the only two GB guys were moved to the rotation by the end of the year.
Staying in Arizona, Nick Franklin continues to rake (from the left side). With his sixth double of the year today, he’s got his slugging percentage over .500 and has reportedly been solid defensively at 2B. The stats are fine, but I was more interested in his strikeouts. I saw Franklin several times in Tacoma, and came away a bit worried about the swing-and-miss in his game. He struggled mightily in his first couple of PCL months, striking out in 30% of his plate appearances in June/July. But his relentless work in the cage seemed to pay off a bit, as his K% dropped to 15% from August through the end of the season. Of course, these samples are miniscule, but visually, he often looked overmatched against good pitchers. In the AFL, Franklin’s contact rate looks pretty similar to his August numbers, and he’s posting an even K:BB ratio from the right side. The platoon splits are still an issue, as every one of Franklin’s extra base hits have come against right-handed pitchers. The move to 2B seems fairly clear as well, so it’s not like this AFL campaign has been an unalloyed success, but I didn’t think Franklin looked ready to help the M’s in early 2013 when I first saw him, but he’s changing my mind.
Stefen Romero’s still hitting well in limited action; the 2B/3B/DH hit his second AFL HR yesterday, and the M’s 2012 Minor League Player of the Year continues to rake (and move around the diamond). Vinnie Catricala’s been playing a lot of LF/DH, but hit bat is finally heating up, as he’s got his AFL batting line back into respectable territory. Still, a move down the defensive spectrum’s coincided with a year-long slump, and that’s not good for a guy looking to get a 40-man spot in the next few weeks.
James Paxton was shut down after he reached his innings-limit, so the M’s replaced him with Seon-Gi Kim, who had been tabbed to play in the Australian League. Instead, he’s made a couple of appearances in Arizona – the first was a disastrous partial inning in which he gave up three runs in 1/3 of an inning, but he came back with a scoreless inning the other day. He featured a 91-93mph fastball and a hard slider (that he often struggled to control). Kim was a fairly big signing back in 2009, but he’s struggled a bit in the Midwest League, so facing AFL hitters is quite a step up for him.
Mike Zunino remains solid at the plate, and a bit questionable behind it. After several games without a stolen base allowed, he (and his pitchers, to be fair) gave up four today. I could complain about his somewhat elevated K rate, but it’s really nit-picking. Zunino’s bat has been much better – sooner – than expected, and that gives the M’s some tough calls to make next spring.
In the Caribbean Leagues, the best stat line belongs to Carlos Peguero, who put together a very good 28-AB line for Gigantes in the Dominican League. Of course, he put together a solid line for Gigantes last year, and then put up an eerily similar line for Tacoma. You know who Carlos Peguero is. Everyone knows who Carlos Peguero is, and there’s essentially nothing he could do in a handful of at-bats in the Dominican Winter League that would appreciably change that impression. That said, I look forward to seeing him in Tacoma again next year, both because dingers are fun, and the M’s don’t really do that sort of thing, and because it’s fascinating to see how much mileage Peguero gets out of his approach in the PCL. There are many ways to be a “AAAA” player, and there are many ways to describe the gulf between AAA and the majors, and Peguero is a living embodiment of one of them. AAA hurlers can make him look foolish at times, but they offer up enough mistakes that he’s able to turn the tables on them fairly often. MLB pitchers, apparently, do not make those mistakes.
Roenis Elias has scuffled for Lara in the Venezuelan League – he lost some time to a visa issue, but has pitched in two games thus far, most recently on Tuesday. Cesar Jimenez has been solid, but the odds that he returns to the M’s is minimal – though he would have the chance to add to his record of playing for Tacoma in more separate seasons than anyone. He’s at 7, and I’m pretty sure he’s not itching to make it 8. Danny Farquhar continues his push for a 40-man spot with solid relief work in Venezuela. The small righty improved his K rate and his command in 2012, and could get picked up in the Rule 5 draft if he’s not protected.
There’s not much to go on, but Carlos Triunfel and Francisco Martinez – two young prospects who could really use a breakout performance after so-so seasons – haven’t done a whole lot in the Caribbean. Martinez’s power is still AWOL; the ex-Tiger prospect slugged below .300 for Jackson this season which necessitated a move to CF. He’s playing CF in Venezuela, albeit sparingly, and still hasn’t shown a lot of pop. Triunfel was used primarily as a pinch-hitter/pinch-runner, so there’s essentially nothing to go on statistically. His versatility make him a candidate for the 25th man on the M’s bench, but the M’s could conceivably go with Nick Franklin to swap offense for defense. I can’t believe he’s still just 22 years old.
As always, if you’d like a complete list of M’s prospects in the AFL/Australia/Venezuela/the Dominican, MLB.com has it here.
Prince Fielder casts a large shadow, both physically and figuratively, as even a year removed from his signing with Detroit, his name still continues to be linked to discussions of what the Mariners might do or should have done in the past. Ever since I advocated for Swisher in the off-season plan, a common response has been that we wouldn’t have to overextend ourselves for a mediocre player like Swisher if we had just stepped up and signed a real difference maker like Fielder a year ago. Any discussion of the off-season always begins with how this is not a good free agent class, unlike last year, when real stars like Fielder were available.
It’s funny how labels often do far move to deceive than inform. Rather than actually stopping and looking at the relative merits of the two players, the perception of the two is vastly different simply based on the kinds of words that are used to describe them. So, I figure its time we just drop the labels and actually show you exactly what the differences between the two have been over the last several years.
First, here are just their raw stats from 2010 to 2012:
Fielder wins in a landslide across the board. 39 more hits. 24 more home runs. 76 more walks. Swisher’s totals simply don’t stack up, and this is why having a real cleanup hitter like Fielder is just so much more valuable than a complementary piece like Swisher, right?
Well, take a look at the numbers again, only this time, we’ve normalized the number of plate appearances. After all, the argument for Fielder is about quality of results, not quantity. No one’s arguing against Swisher because they think he gets hurt too much, but because he simply doesn’t provide the same impact when he’s at the plate. So, let’s rescale those numbers to 600 plate appearances each, or about one full season for a regular position player.
Three more singles. Five more home runs, but four fewer doubles. This isn’t over a week, or even a month. This is over an entire season. We’re talking a gap of four additional base hits, with only one of those hits being an extra base knock. The real advantage Fielder has over Swisher as a hitter – intentional walks and number of times hit by pitch. The unintentional walk rates are identical, as basically the entire difference in times reaching base is IBBs and HBPs. Those things have value, of course, and no one’s going to argue that Swisher is Fielder’s equal at the plate, but we should at least understand what the actual differences between them over the last three years have actually been.
Three extra singles, one more extra base hit, and two dozen extra free passes to first base, either the hard way or the way that makes us all boo the pitcher for being a coward. That’s what the difference between Fielder’s .291/.409/.521 line and Swisher’s .274/.366/.478 line work out too over one full year’s worth of plate appearances.
I’m sorry, but you just can’t make a mountain of that kind of mole hill. Fielder’s a really good hitter, but there’s no way you can justify the claim that Swisher is just a marginal role player when the actual difference has been four extra hits and 24 extra IBB/HBPs per 600 plate appearances. Especially when a large part of the dismissal of Swisher comes from discounting the value of walks. You can’t simultaneously dismiss getting on base via the free pass and then also claim that Fielder is a dramatically superior offensive player. His durability, and the extra 200 plate appearances he’s received over the last three years by playing everyday, certainly has value and should be factored in, but make sure that you realize that a lot of the offensive gap between them has been about quantity of playing time, not impact on a per plate appearance level.
If you liked the idea of Prince Fielder for $150 million — forget the crazy $214 million that he actually got — then you should love the idea of Swisher at half that price. Yes, he’s a few years older and not quite as good of a hitter, but he’s also a drastically better defensive player who can handle multiple positions, a better baserunner, a switch-hitter, and doesn’t have a physique that screams “knee problems!” There are pros and cons to both. If you’re just deciding which one you’d rather have without any regard to cost, you’d go with Fielder, but a rational analysis of their performance would tell you that the gap isn’t as huge as the perception difference.
But, once you factor in cost — especially now that the Yankees have decided to avoid multi-year contracts in an effort to get under the luxury tax — the choice between the two is a no-brainer. There’s no way that you can spin the difference between them as worth an extra $150 million or whatever the gap in their total contracts ends up being.
The Mariners don’t need to sign an inferior player like Nick Swisher to make up for the fact that they missed their chance to sign a real hitter like Prince Fielder last winter, even if that’s the story people want you to believe. They get the chance to sign a good player like Nick Swisher — and still have a bunch of money left to bring in more talent as well — because they didn’t fall into the trap of labels and drastically overpay last winter.
That’s why I don’t buy into any of this talk about this being a bad class of free agents. That’s like criticizing Safeway for being a bad grocery store compared to Whole Foods. You can probably get a slightly higher quality product at Whole Foods for double the price, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find good stuff at better prices by avoiding the marketing hype and buying things that are on sale. A store isn’t bad just because it doesn’t have overpriced stuff you shouldn’t pay for to begin with. This market might not have high-end players with overinflated price tags, but it has a host of good players who can dramatically improve the Mariners roster without costing them a large part of their future.
Given the reports about the kinds of offers Swisher is getting, he’s shaping up to be a freaking steal, and he’s exactly the kind of player that the Mariners need. Don’t let the labels that have been affixed to him and Fielder distract you from the truth. Just like Fielder, he’s a really good player. And at the reported price tag, getting him this winter would be a far better result for the franchise than signing Fielder last winter would have been.