No, I’m Not Dead
I just took a nice long vacation with my wife. We flew to the Bay Area, where my mom was born and where I still have a giant extended family — my mom is the seventh of 13 children. We went for a big Christmas get together, and then Amy and I drove up the California coast, spent a night in Grants Pass, and then finished the road trip to Seattle before spending a few days with my immediate family. I wasn’t totally unhooked from the world during the trip, but I did make a point to spend as little time thinking about baseball as possible. It was great.
While I was gone, the Mariners signed Raul Ibanez. You already know this, of course, and Marc’s already laid out his opinion on the signing and showed just how much evidence there is that Raul Ibanez’s presence can teach young players how to hit. You probably can guess where I stand on a signing like this, so I’ll keep it brief.
I don’t have anything against Raul Ibanez. Everyone says he’s a great guy, and I believe them. I don’t think “clubhouse chemistry” is worthless, nor do I pretend that we know everything there is to know about player development. I’m sure some of the guys on the roster could benefit from being harder workers, and logic suggests that putting a hard worker next to them might just motivate them to work harder.
But here’s the thing – you can hope and wish that Raul Ibanez rubs off on the rest of the guys all you want, but the reality is that absolutely no one can predict “chemistry” with any degree of accuracy. That’s why the term is so silly, since chemistry is a science of predictable and repeatable results from combining known entities. What baseball writers call chemistry is actually voodoo; throw a bunch of stuff in a pot, stir, and hope it turns out to be a magic formula.
Ken Griffey Jr is an amazing bonding agent for the clubhouse, and everyone loves him, which is why they won. Until he gets mad, turns everyone against the manager, and the roster gives up on the guy in charge because Junior got his feelings hurt. Whoops. You can go through nearly any kind of “chemistry” experiment you want in baseball, and you’ll find that some (reportedly) worked, some (reportedly) didn’t, and there’s no identifiable pattern to be repeated. And if you can’t predict the outcome of a thing with any reasonable degree of certainty, then it’s just not really worth spending your resources on.
You don’t go to the grocery store and buy a mystery box, hoping that they all come together when you throw them in a skillet. That is, essentially, what spending roster spots on team chemistry is. Raul Ibanez’s influence on the rest of the roster is a complete unknown, and anyone who tells you differently is kidding themselves. This has nothing to do with Raul. It has everything to do with the unpredictable nature of interpersonal relationships between people who have never spent any time together.
If the Mariners had a good team, and didn’t need any more talent, hey, fine, blow a roster spot on a chemistry guy. But the Mariners don’t have a good team, and they do need more talent, and it’s a near certainty that Raul Ibanez is going to take the roster spot of a younger, better player who could actually help the Mariners on the field. The most vulnerable guy is probably Casper Wells. Not Mike Carp, who was already a goner. Before signing Ibanez, you could probably squeeze Wells and Jason Bay onto the same roster. Now, there’s no way to make it work. The Mariners are going to have to pick one of the two in spring training, and you can bet that if Bay shows anything in Peoria, they’re going to pick the veteran.
It’s going to take an injury or Bay completely falling on his face for Wells to make this team now. And, since he’s out of options, not making the team means he’s out of the organization. If the M’s acquire another outfielder, Wells might not even make it to spring training. And maybe you look at Wells and think “ehh, what’s the big deal, he’s not that great”. It’s true, he’s nothing special. But his older twin, Cody Ross, just signed a three year, $26 million contract as a free agent. Seriously, Wells and Ross are the exact same player, only Wells is younger and capable of playing center field if need be. He has value, even with his streakiness and his strikeouts. Lefty mashers who can run and play defense aren’t just laying around waiting to be claimed on waivers. Flushing him down the drain in favor of having a glorified coach on the bench is a cost this team can’t afford right now.
I don’t like the Raul Ibanez signing because of what it means for Wells. Nothing against Ibanez, but his presence on the roster is probably going to cost this team a useful depth piece who actually has a role on a winning big league team. Raul Ibanez does not have a role on a winning big league team. Not as a player. Not in 2013.