The Fundamental Flaw

January 16, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 126 Comments 

You’ve heard, by now, that the Mariners traded John Jaso for Mike Morse. The spin is essentially going to go something like this:

The Mariners needed to improve their offense, specifically, hitting for power. Mike Morse is a better hitter than Jaso, and because he doesn’t have Jaso’s large platoon splits, he can affect the line-up everyday. As a platoon catcher, Jaso’s value was limited to only playing against right-handers, and with Mike Zunino on the way, he didn’t have a future behind the plate for the Mariners. Jesus Montero and Kendrys Morales were going to make it difficult to get him at-bats at DH, and the team had hole in the outfield. Thus, by trading a C/DH for an outfielder, they’re dealing from a position of strength to fill a void.

There are some true statements in there. John Jaso does have big platoon splits. The Mariners did have a bit of a glut of C/1B/DH types. John Jaso is coming off a career year, and he won’t repeat his numbers from 2012 again. The problem comes when you try to stretch all those true statements together to form a rational defense of trading a younger, cheaper, more valuable player for one who is simply worse overall.

The only way to view Morse as an improvement over Jaso is to think in a particularly narrow minded way, seeing players primarily through the lens of labels, mostly defined by their hitting abilities. Mike Morse is a “power bat”, John Jaso is a “part time player”. And who wouldn’t rather have a guy who can hit cleanup rather than a guy who needs to sit on the bench regularly?

Of course, players are far more complex beings than that, and seeing baseball through that kind of particular worldview was a hallmark of the last Mariners front office. You remember those days, back when Carlos Silva was “an innings eater”, Jarrod Washburn was a “proven workhorse”, and Richie Sexson was a “big bat”. The Mariners fired the last guy who thought in those terms, but not before he had torn the franchise down to shreds and left it in ruins. You cannot build a winning baseball team by evaluating a player’s value in terms of generic cliches.

Back in October, I wrote about the need to stop underrating John Jaso. I’m going to quote three paragraphs from that post, but just go read the whole thing.

There is simply no argument to be made that Jaso’s problems against left-handers or his throwing serve to significantly drag down his value to the point where he’s best served in some kind of part-time bench role like he was used this year. His usage this year was a mistake, and one that should absolutely be corrected in 2013.

John Jaso is a Major League quality starting catcher, and based on his MLB performance to date — again, in over two full seasons worth of playing time — he’s showed that he’s probably one of the 10 best catchers in baseball. That doesn’t mean you have to run him out there against every left-hander, but using him like the Diamondbacks used Montero or the White Sox used Pierzynski is completely rational. That’s around 120 starts per year, with a bias towards using his days off when a left-hander is on the mound.

John Jaso is pretty obviously the team’s best hitter right now. He might very well be the team’s best player, even with his moderate power, big platoon splits, and his mediocre throwing arm. While Eric Wedge failed to recognize Jaso’s strengths and simply focused on his weaknesses, that doesn’t mean that we have to do the same. Jaso isn’t a perfect player, but besides Joe Mauer, there are no perfect left-handed hitting Major League catchers. Other organizations have realized that the positives so far outweigh the negatives that they’ve simply found a capable right-handed hitting back-up to start 40 games a year and let their lefty hitting catchers be significant assets to the organization.

John Jaso, with his inability to hit left-handers and his poor throwing arm, is still an above average Major League catcher. He’s comparable in overall value to Alex Avila, who was the starting catcher for the team that just won the American League. Because there are so few catchers in baseball who can hit, even a bad defender who can hit right-handers like Jaso can puts him in rare company. Even limiting him to just 450 plate appearances, due to strict platooning, Jaso’s career average grades out to about +2.3 WAR. If you assume that any of his 2012 improvement was real, and that he’s better than a straight career average, then he’s closer to a +2.5 to +3.0 WAR player.

Now, no one has figured out how to perfectly evaluate everything a catcher does. We can make a pretty good guess at the obvious things, like controlling the running game and keeping pitches from going to the backstop. Those things are already included in WAR, since they’re not that hard to measure. There are other parts of catching that are not easy to measure, and are not included in WAR, so no one is claiming that WAR is the gospel truth here. Jaso could easily be a worse player than WAR calculations suggest. In fact, given his defensive reputation, that’s probably the truth. So, hey, let’s just knock a win off of his value, in addition to the penalty he’s already getting for allowing stolen bases and blocking balls in the dirt. Let’s call him a +1.5 to +2.0 win player, assuming that there really are big parts of catcher defense that we can’t accurately measure, and assuming that Jaso is terrible at those things.

Guess what? That’s still better than Mike Morse. Dan Szymborski released his ZIPS projections for the Nationals a few weeks ago, and he has Morse at +1.4 WAR in 2013. Because, quite simply, there’s more to baseball than hitting home runs, and Mike Morse is pretty terrible at every part of baseball that isn’t hitting home runs.

For a more detailed breakdown, you can read this post I wrote on Morse last week. We go through his offensive projections (still pretty decent!), but also through his defensive value (awful), his baserunning skills (lousy), and his durability (not good). Despite all the talk about Morse being a “full time player”, he’s dealt with a litany of health problems during his career, and has only managed to play more than 102 games once in his career. You simply can’t project Morse as a 150 game regular next year, and his deficiencies in the field and on the bases cut into his value even when he is in the line-up.

Morse has power. His power is valuable. It helps make him a decent player even though he doesn’t do anything else at a Major League level. In a lot of ways, Morse is similar to Kendrys Morales, in that his power tool is good enough to carry him despite being a pretty one dimensional player. It’s useful to have these kinds of players, but if you don’t do anything besides hit, you better be a spectacular hitter. Morse is not a spectacular hitter. He’s a decent hitter, an above average hitter, but he doesn’t walk, he strikes out a decent amount, and he doesn’t run the bases well. When you only do one thing, it significantly limits your value.

So, in reality, the Mariners are swapping an average-ish player (if you give Jaso a big penalty for catcher defense) for an average-ish player. Only, the average-ish player they’re receiving has one year left on his contract, while the average-ish player they’re giving up is under team control for three more years. Even if you ignore the roughly $6 million difference in salary, Morse would have to be a significantly better player than Jaso to justify giving up two extra years, as the Mariners have done here.

And, of course, there’s the problem of roster construction. We talked about how the pieces fit together the other day, noting that the Mariners couldn’t simply acquire another hitter without giving any consideration to defense. While Morse officially takes Jaso’s spot on the roster, they obviously have to replace Jaso with another catcher, so there are one of three players who could go away to make room for Morse on the roster: Jason Bay (the best choice), Casper Wells (the likely choice), or Justin Smoak (the easy choice).

Because the Mariners already have a glut of 1B/DH types, Morse is almost certainly going to get a decent amount of playing time in the outfield. Right now, he displaces Wells as the third starting OF — despite the fact that Wells is probably Morse’s equal in terms of value going forward — and moves Wells and Bay into a competition for the fourth OF job. If the Mariners wanted to keep both, they could theoretically option Smoak to Tacoma, then use Bay in the outfield against lefties with Morse shifting to first base, which is the role Smoak was slotted in for when we did the exercise the other day. Or, if Bay shows nothing in spring training, then the could just cut him and go with both Smoak and Wells as reserves. The problem is that there wouldn’t be much playing time for either one, and the lack of defensive flexibility would cause the team some real problems with in-game strategy.

More likely, I think, is that the Mariners trade Wells along with one of their extra bullpen arms for starting pitcher, taking him out of the picture entirely. Then, they’ll bring in a super utility type who can play both IF and OF to round out the bench, then let Bay and Smoak compete for the final bench spot depending on who has a better spring.

In the end, I’d bet that this series of moves is likely going to end up looking something like Jaso, Wells, and a reliever for Morse, a free agent catcher of some sort, and whatever pitcher Wells can bring back in return. And the Mariners are not likely going to get any more production from their new trio than they would have from just keeping Jaso and Wells and using the salary difference to sign a free agent pitcher. Only, now, they also don’t have Jaso’s future, probably won’t have Wells’ future, and might very well get a worse pitcher than they would have had they gone after a free agent starter back when there were still some good ones available.

The Mariners didn’t need offense. The Mariners needed talent. The Mariners didn’t get a talent upgrade today. They turned one piece into a less valuable piece, all because the new guy does the thing that that everyone has been wanting to see more of; hit home runs. Home runs are nice, but the 1990s Mariners should have taught everyone that home runs don’t win games. Runs, of all shapes and sizes, win games. And Mike Morse won’t help the Mariners outscore their opponents any more than John Jaso would have.

Just like with the Brandon Morrow swap, this is just the Mariners misevaluating a player they had, because they focused too much on what he wasn’t good at. Just like the Brandon League acquisition is looked back on as a silly one, so will this. The Mariners paid a premium to not get better in the present and cost them some value in the future.


Mariners Do Stupid Thing

January 16, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 120 Comments 

The Mariners have just completed a three team trade that sends John Jaso to Oakland, with the team getting Mike Morse back in exchange. Yes, you read that correctly, the Mariners traded John Jaso for Mike Morse.

This is Bavasi-esque. This is an awful decision, trading a good player for an older, worse, more expensive, less healthy player with two fewer years of team control. This is what happens you focus intently on acquiring a type of thing — in this case, a “power bat” — and don’t understand the value of the assets you have. This is what happens when you have a manager who doesn’t know how to evaluate talent, and sees John Jaso as nothing more than a backup catcher.

This is Jack’s worst trade. This is worse than the Fister deal. This is just a straight up downgrade. The Mariners are worse off for having made this swap.

M’s Hire Dominican Guy, Who Signs Another Dominican Guy

January 15, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 26 Comments 

By my reckoning, we have entered the offseason period of the Doldrums. I, for one, have been driving my little car for quite some time and Tock is nowhere to be found. Just wait though: the mere fact that I’m coming out of hiding to post anything at all almost certainly promises some major move later in the day to push this down the page. Things are looking up!

One of the moves to occur recently with very little mention is that the Mariners brought in Eddy Toledo to lead their Dominican operations, taking over the job that formerly belonged to Patrick Guerrero. At the time, when Guerrero and Engle were both leaving, there was concern over who would be filling that fairly large void. While Engle we knew would be hard to replace due to his years of scouting experience and connections, what we understood of Guerrero was more speculative. He had been instrumental in a number of the Latin American signings, but as Marc and I were discussing recently, those signings hadn’t done a whole lot for us. To rattle off a short and incomplete list of guys given seven-figure bonuses who didn’t do much: Mario Martinez, Jharmidy de Jesus, Carlos Triunfel (may yet be a major leaguer), and more recent enigmas like Guillermo Pimentel, Phillips Castillo, and Alexy Palma (Jose Leal gets a bye for this year). The list of high-profile hitter signings that had followed through with what was expected of them might be limited to Julio Morban, health permitting. The last guy who exceeded expectations might’ve been Luis Valbuena or Juan Diaz, who both went to the Indians, who liked what we did on the international front. Assuming that hitters ought to be safer, something we were doing appeared to be systemically wrong, relative to our level of regional investment. This was probably the justification for giving Guerrero the ax, though none of us knew what qualifications his replacement might have or if there were better options available.

Scouts who are hired to fill such positions are often not as visible within an organizational hierarchy, making it difficult to know who is even on the market. Managers and general managers tend to draw from defined pools of applicants and the profile of their role means that we know ahead of time who is even interviewing. Fellows like Toledo and Guerrero are only names that nuts like me might recognize within their own organization. Now, from the article on the hiring, we know that Toledo isn’t exactly a slouch with regards to what he’s accomplished. He’s been in baseball for thirty+ years and among the players to his credit we have Jose Reyes, Nelson Cruz, Octavio Dotel, Guillermo Mota, Hector Carrasco, Carlos Gomez, Fernando Martinez, Elvin Ramirez, Alex Colome, Braulio Lara and assorted other major leaguers. Toledo had been with the Rays since 2006 and glancing over the Baseball America prospect list, I see that he’s responsible for two guys on their top 10, Colome and Enny Romero, both pitchers. He was also the one who signed Leslie Anderson after he defected from Cuba. Going after our Pacific Northwest players, Rays? Well, we’ll just steal your Dominican scout and sign players that are geographically closer to you! Take that!

Given that the Mariners are reputed high-rollers in the international world and the Rays aren’t really, one of the things that’s easy to talk about is how Toledo, provided with more resources, might be able to make a more visible impact on his new organization. That’s a seemingly reasonable estimation though, considering development delays stemming from age and relative experience, the net change in return will take us a bit longer to get a decent gauge on. That also doesn’t begin to address the new CBA changes, which could either drive players away from the sport or lead to greater parity in the signings. In the short term, not to be presumptuous, it at least looks like we have an upgrade rather than a mere replacement.

Toledo and his superior, new international director Tim Kissner, got to work pretty quickly, signing Dominican OF Luis Liberato, who has a name going for him at the very least. Liberato inked for $140k, a decent sum of money, and the scouting report we have on him at least seems positive. Among the pluses in his column (let’s call it “Colome”), left-handed bat, “mature approach”, and a potential center field future with a sufficient arm for right field. So, something like a lesser Julio Morban with a better arm. Among the negatives, a tendency to swing too hard for power at times, center field being less than a certainty, and the fact that a lot of scouting reports for these types of players read alike and there’s very little available to corroborate any of the information. Our new scout is doing stuff! You may never hear this player’s name mentioned again!

And that’s where we are in the realm of small-ish moves made by the Mariners that are still probably worth noting. Remember, we’re less than a month away from pitchers and catchers reporting and time continues to pass.

Digging Deeper Into Prospect Lists

January 14, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 11 Comments 

The Trade That Wasn’t has focused a lot of attention on the M’s prospects and how teams value assets like Taijuan Walker or Nick Franklin. It’s worth remembering that the prospect valuations Victor Wang did back in 2007-08 and that have been updated many times by many people since then use prospect rankings as their raw material. That is, theoretical value is largely determined by a prospect’s place on a list like the BA Top 100. They’re they source of a lot of frustration, excitement and all-around interest; we know we shouldn’t, but many of us can get into long arguments about the ordinal ranking of a team’s 5th best RHP.

I mentioned the differences in several of the big prospect rankings back on New Year’s Eve. Today, we look deeper into the lists with Conor Glassey of Baseball America and Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus. As authors of two of the lists I looked at, they can explain how they do what they do using the M’s system as an example. This is an article about how others write lists, and if that’s too meta for you, I understand. But I hope this conversation sheds some light on prospects and player development in general, as well as add something to what you know about several M’s prospects.
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Current Roles

January 13, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 61 Comments 

The Mariners roster isn’t complete. They’re going to add someone, maybe a couple of someones, before the season starts. There’s no way they’re going into the season with a $70 million payroll, not after Howard Lincoln spent the beginning of the winter talking about how the budget was “going up”. So, in some ways, this is a bit of an exercise in futility, since looking at how the roster fits together now will be different from looking how it fits together when the season starts.

But, I think viewing the roster this way also helps clarify what the team actually needs right now. For whatever reason, people have become accustomed to talking about roles in the context of batting order — so and so is a leadoff hitter, the team needs a guy who can hit third, etc… — even though batting order hardly matters at all, and teams shouldn’t spend much time at all concerning themselves with who is going to hit where when deciding which players to acquire. In reality, a team should figure out who their best nine players are for a given match-up, and then they can figure out what order those nine should hit in after that. So, let’s not pay any regard to batting order for now. Let’s just figure out who should play, and where the guys on the roster fit right now.

Versus a Right-Handed Starter

Position Player Bats
C John Jaso L
1B Kendrys Morales S
2B Dustin Ackley L
3B Kyle Seager L
SS Brendan Ryan R
LF Michael Saunders L
CF Franklin Gutierrez R
RF Casper Wells R
DH Jesus Montero R
DH Raul Ibanez L
IF Robert Andino R
1B Justin Smoak S
OF Jason Bay R

It’s not very hard to start spotting problems with this group, of course. Casper Wells probably isn’t a guy you want as your everyday right fielder against RHPs, which is why the Mariners keep trying to acquire a better RF. Wells is better suited to the role Bay is in, but now that the organization has guaranteed $3 million to Raul Ibanez, there’s not room for both. In fact, there’s not really room for both Bay and Ibanez even now, as this group comes with some serious in-game strategy problems.

For one, having both Jaso and Montero in the line-up without having a third catcher on the roster means that you can’t pinch hit for Jaso against LHPs in high leverage situations, and Wedge would probably even be reluctant to pinch run for Jesus Montero without another catcher on the roster, as an injury to Jaso after removing Montero would leave the team without a backstop to finish the game. Ibanez was a catcher 15 years ago, but asking the 41-year-old to serve as the emergency catcher seems unlike something a Major League manager would want to do to his respected veteran. Yeah, you could wiggle through a few innings if necessary with Andino or whoever behind the dish, but it would be embarrassing, and MLB managers do not like to be publicly embarrassed. It’s why you don’t see teams building rosters with the backup catcher moonlighting as the DH, at least, not without having another backup catcher on the roster.

The best solution to this problem is to actually carry a third catcher, specifically, a right-handed catcher who could pinch-hit for Jaso against LHPs without wasting two bench players in the process. Kelly Shoppach would be perfect for that role. But, now that the Mariners have committed to carrying a backup DH/veteran presence, it’s hard to figure out how you’d get a third catcher onto this team. You can’t get rid of Andino; he’s the only backup infield on the roster (more on that in a second). You can’t get rid of Bay, because even if you don’t like him as a bounce back candidate, he’s basically a stand-in for the “extra outfielder” that is an absolute necessity on this roster due to Franklin Gutierrez’s health problems. With Guti’s track record, the fourth OF needs to be able to step in as a full time player and provide some value. You can’t punt that position, and Raul Ibanez can’t be that guy. If you had three workhorse starters who would play everyday, maybe you could fake it with Ibanez as your fourth OF, playing once every few weeks when someone needs a breather. With Guti around? No way.

So, with Ibanez having the Life Coach spot on the roster locked down, the only vulnerable guy on the bench is Smoak. But, that presents a small problem in its own right, as Morales isn’t exactly an ironman himself, and is expected to get a decent amount of time at DH, meaning that someone else on the team has to be able to play first base. Some have suggested that this is where Ibanez will get his playing time, spelling Morales at first and replacing Smoak as the part-time first baseman on the roster. However, that doesn’t really work either, and this is why its important to look at rosters like this. To further explain the issue here, here’s the same group and how they would shake out against lefties.

Position Player Bats
C Jesus Montero R
1B Justin Smoak S
2B Dustin Ackley L
3B Kyle Seager L
SS Brendan Ryan R
LF Michael Saunders L
CF Franklin Gutierrez R
RF Casper Wells R
DH Kendrys Morales S
DH Raul Ibanez L
IF Robert Andino R
C John Jaso L
OF Jason Bay R

Kicking Smoak off the roster to give the bench a little more flexibility creates a problem against lefties; who plays first base then? With Smoak around, he’s the easy choice, and you can basically schedule Morales’ DH days in order to keep him from having to play the field too regularly. Let’s say you replace Smoak with a guy like Shoppach, though… who plays first against a lefty then?

Ibanez’s only value comes against right-handed pitching; playing him against a lefty is an affront to the people paying to see the team play that day. If the plan is really to use Ibanez as the 1B against lefties when Morales needs a DH day, then they should just refund season ticket holders their money and issue a public apology for not being able to do better than this. That can’t be the plan. So, what’s left? Jason Bay, who has never played a professional inning of first base in his life.

You could teach him in spring training, of course, because it’s first base and it’s not that hard, but now you’re asking your fourth outfielder — on a team where the fourth outfielder is probably going to play a decent amount — to also be your first baseman against lefties. He can’t do both at the same time, and the simple fact of the matter is that with this roster construction, there is absolutely no way around the fact that you’d have multiple situations throughout the year where minor injuries forced Wedge into choosing between a host of terrible options. In reality, the best option here might be starting Robert Andino at second base and shifting Ackley over to first base, but that’s just admitting that the team built a roster where the platoon first baseman against left-handers is the backup shortstop. That’s sad.

So, Smoak — or a right-handed bench bat who can also play first base — is still something of a necessity on this roster. This is why the team pursued a guy like Mike Napoli, since he could have served as both the third catcher and the 1B vs LHPs at the same time. Unfortunately, acquiring Ibanez means that they’re now choosing between a third catcher and a right-handed first baseman, unless they can find another right-handed catcher who you also would be okay with putting in the line-up at first base against lefties.

Shoppach might actually be that kind of guy, considering he’s hit lefties pretty well in his career, but he’s also never played an inning at first base in his professional career. Given the team’s reluctance to using Jaso or Montero at first base last year, it doesn’t seem like Wedge is just willing to punt first base defense while an unathletic catcher learns how to play the position for the first time. But, this reinforces my suggestion that Montero should get significant reps at first base, and should probably be looked at more as a 1B/DH going forward than a C/DH.

If Montero became even moderately serviceable at first base, this all becomes fairly easy, as right-handed catcher guy goes behind the plate, Montero plays first against lefties, and the entire roster dilemma is solved. The team has given lip service to Montero getting some reps at first base, but given Ibanez’s acquisition, it’s not really a little perk if he can learn the position – it’s now a huge roster issue. This roster works against lefties — well, kind of — if Montero can play first base. If he can’t, it’s kind of a disaster.

Speaking of minor disasters, let’s talk about the infield for a second. We touched on Andino being the only backup infielder on the roster, which might seem okay at first glance given that he’s got experience at all three infield positions and could theoretically cover them all by himself. But, again, there’s in-game strategy issues that suggest that’s a pretty bad idea.

When Ibanez was acquired, the spin was that his primary role would be as a pinch-hitter. A late game left-handed bat off the bench. It was kind of funny to hear that, given that Wedge was resistant to using a left-handed bat off the bench last year for fear of the opposing manager making a pitching change, but hey, let’s just go with the flow for now. Ibanez’s role has been generally cast as “pinch hitter”. Which starting position player do you most often want to pinch hit for? Yes, that’s right, Brendan Ryan. He’s a bad hitter. He makes up for it with his glove, but the glove doesn’t matter when he’s due up with the bases loaded in the 7th inning of a tie game and you really, really want a base hit.

So, what happens when you pinch hit for Ryan in that 7th inning situation? Andino replaces him at shortstop for the remainder of the game. No problem, that’s why you have a backup shortstop. Only, now, what happens if Seager, Andino, or Ackley get hit by a pitch and have to leave the game? Or pull a hamstring running down the line? We’re not just talking about some long shot situation that will never occur. Ibanez was specifically acquired to be a bat off the bench, and in a large majority of those games, the guy you want him pinch hitting for is Brendan Ryan. That means that you’re asking Eric Wedge to finish a large number of games without a safety net. Pretty much every extra inning game, you can bet Ryan will have been pinch hit for long before it concludes. By the end of the year, you’re probably looking at 50+ innings where the team will have played without a backup infielder.

It’s one thing to ask a manager to consider having to forfeit the DH every once in a while to move Montero behind the plate if Jaso gets hurt. Having the pitcher’s spot due up is unfortunate, but it’s workable. You pinch-hit, or you bunt, and people aren’t that weirded out by pitchers hitting. But, what is Wedge supposed to do in one of these games where he’s already pinch-hit for Brendan Ryan and then Seager, Ackley, or Andino himself gets injured? Who, exactly, are you sticking in the field as their replacement?

If Smoak is still on the team, the answer is Jason Bay, because Smoak’s a left-handed thrower, and left-handed throwers can’t really play third, second, or shortstop without contorting their body in order to throw the ball towards first base. Bay, a career infielder, would almost certainly have to play third base, with Seager acting as the backup 2B/SS if anything happened to either Ackley or Andino. It’s one thing to try and teach a 34-year-old Jason Bay how to play first base because the roster doesn’t really work; it’s something else entirely to try and teach him how to play third base. Or, if Bay loses out on the 4th OF job, then we’re talking about Casper Wells instead. He’s younger, and he has a good throwing arm, but do you really think Eric Wedge wants to see Casper Wells play third base in 2013?

That’s where the team is headed if Robert Andino is the only infielder on the roster. Remember what we said about managers not liking to be embarrassed? Jason Bay or Casper Wells playing third base is embarrassing. It’s the primary reason Chone Figgins hung around on the roster all summer, even after the team decided they didn’t want him anymore. They just weren’t willing to play with one reserve infielder. Not when Brendan Ryan is one of your starting infielders. Especially not now, when you have a guy on the roster whose sole job is Brendan Ryan’s Pinch Hitter.

So, now, we’re at a spot where the team could really use another catcher, and they could really use another infielder, but the only vulnerable roster spot right now belongs to Justin Smoak, who is also penciled in as the 1B versus LHPs. You can take Smoak away if you teach Montero how to play first base, but then you’re still left with one roster spot for a guy who can cover both catcher and third base. Which is not Kelly Shoppach. In fact, it’s very few players. Last year, just eight players appeared in a big league game at both catcher and third base. Brandon Snyder caught one inning, and Vinny Rottino caught four; neither of them really qualify for what we’re talking about here. The rest of the names? Jordan Pacheco, Wilin Rosario, Josh Donaldson, Steve Clevenger, Yan Gomes, and Chris Gimenez.

Yes, Chris Gimenez. You remember Gimenez, most likely. That’s the kind of Major Leaguer that both catches and plays third base. And that’s the kind of guy that the Mariners need to seriously look at acquiring. You don’t really want him playing too often either, but you’re better off with him behind the plate and Montero at first than you are with Montero behind the plate and Andino filling the first base role, even if he’s not actually playing first base. And you’re better off because then you’d have another backup infielder on the team, so Wedge could pinch hit for Brendan Ryan to his heart’s content. Or pinch run for Jesus Montero. Or pinch-hit for John Jaso against a lefty. Believe it or not, having a Chris Gimenez around would open up a decent amount of in-game moves to Eric Wedge, and would likely save the team from some potential embarrassment in the process.

This is what stocking the team with DHs does to you. In reality, the Mariners don’t just need “a bat”, and they certainly can’t use another player who can’t play the field. They could use a better right fielder, which would also make the bench better by allowing them to replace Bay with Wells, but that isn’t the only need on the position player side of things. By bringing in Raul Ibanez and giving him one of the reserve spots, they took away a decent amount of flexibility, and the only real way to get it back is to have a catcher who can also play some third base, and then teach Montero to play first base while they’re at it.

We’re already 2,600 words into this post, so I’ll skip the parts about how I’m afraid not fixing this problem will encourage Wedge to DH Ibanez at the expense of John Jaso, but suffice it to say, we haven’t covered all of the problems with this current roster yet. Hopefully, we won’t have to. Hopefully, in the next month, the Mariners will actually fill out the team with some better players, and some players who fit together to make a team better than this motley crew they have now.

Was Mariners Offer an Overpay?

January 11, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 74 Comments 

Now that we have a pretty good idea of what the Mariners offered for Upton — a package of Taijuan Walker, Nick Franklin, Charlie Furbush, and Stephen Pryor — the question on most people’s minds is whether that was a good deal for the Mariners had Upton not rejected the trade. Or, should we be happy that Upton said no, as some people suggested after the pieces were reported?

I wrote up my thoughts on the relative value of Upton versus Walker/Franklin over at FanGraphs this morning. While some are going to compare it to the Erik Bedard trade, the reality is that this isn’t anywhere close to that kind of deal, because trading a pitching prospect for a hitter is a lot different than trading a hitting prospect for a pitcher. While people tend to simply lump all “prospects” into the same basket, that’s simply not an accurate way of viewing their expected future value, and while Taijuan Walker might have serious upside, he also comes with huge amounts of risk.

In the piece, I never suggest that this was anything other than a good deal for Arizona, and conversely, I don’t think this was any kind of bargain for the M’s. This was something like paying market value for a +4 win player, just like signing Josh Hamilton to a 4 year, $100 million contract with some vesting options would have been paying market value for a +4 win player. Either could have gone badly. No player’s performance is any kind of future guarantee, whether big leaguer or guy working his way up the ladder. Walker could turn out to be a beast, and Upton might never develop any further than he has already.

But, this wasn’t some kind of absurd offer to try and save Jack’s job of desperation. Throw those comments in the trash where they belong. Upton is a very good player, and the Mariners offered up some very good prospects in order to get him. It’s not the end of the world if he doesn’t change his mind and accept the trade, since they’ll still have Walker, Franklin, Furbush, and Pryor in that case, but it’s also a trade I’d have been willing to make. It’s a high price, but it’s not too high of a price.

Justin Upton Reportedly Rejects Trade to Mariners

January 10, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 90 Comments 

It has been pretty obvious that the Mariners were talking to the Diamondbacks about Justin Upton, as their hunt for a right fielder drags on. The Diamondbacks and Upton are headed towards a break-up; the only question is when, and where Upton lands as a result. If we assume that this report is true, then that means that the Mariners and Diamondbacks agreed on the pieces in a deal, because Upton wouldn’t have been asked to accept a trade that wasn’t agreed to. The D’Backs price for Upton is known to have been extremely high, which is why he isn’t a Texas Ranger right now, despite their pursuit of him all winter. The fact that the Mariners were able to make an offer that Arizona would accept is a pretty big first step.

The second step, of course, is getting Upton to agree to the deal. As of right now, that seems to be a problem, and I know a lot of people are going to say that Upton will never change his mind. Pitcher’s park, losing team, blah blah blah. Yes, you can convince yourself that the Mariners can never have nice things and the world is ending and life is terrible and Howard Lincoln is the devil and all the other things you guys like to believe. But I wouldn’t be too sure that Upton won’t end up in Seattle before all is said and done.

No-trade clauses are generally put in place for two specific reasons:

1. A player is committing to an organization for the long term and wants to put down roots, and the no-trade gives him the security of knowing that he’ll be able to play in the same city as long as he wants. Often, this is related to a player choosing a team for geographic locations. Carlos Lee, for instance, used his no-trade to stay with a dreadful Astros team for years because he has a ranch in Texas and didn’t want to leave. These are usually blanket no-trade clauses, and are given to a select few players.

2. A player’s agent negotiates a limited no-trade clause, with the player being able to select a handful of teams that they don’t wish to be traded to. These lists can usually be changed each off-season, and they generally are adjusted for leverage purposes. Agents stay on top of the rumor mill, and they figure out where the most likely destinations are for their client if he is going to be traded, then choose those organizations as the teams to block, giving them the most amount of leverage possible. Despite what you might suspect, players generally don’t just choose “bad” teams that they don’t want to play for, because bad teams are often rebuilding and are unlikely to trade for high priced talent to begin with. The goal isn’t to be able to block a trade, since that’s not possible to begin with, but to have as much say in the process as possible.

Clearly, situation #1 doesn’t apply here. Upton isn’t staying in Arizona long term, and there’s no desire on his part to stay in Phoenix for the long term. Given how often they’ve tried to trade him, you can imagine that he’d be thrilled to get a fresh start somewhere else. Upton is a classic example of no-trade situation #2. The fact that the Mariners are on his no-trade list is not proof that he has no interest in playing for Seattle – it’s proof that his agent realized that the Mariners were one of the most likely teams interested in trading for him.

Want proof? Here’s an article from July detailing the four teams that were on Upton’s no-trade list for the 2012 season: the Yankees, Red Sox, Indians, and Cubs. Clearly, he’s not just picking long time losers, nor is he eliminating teams that play in pitcher friendly ballparks. It’s a leverage strategy.

So, if the Mariners want to continue pursuing Upton, they have to decide how much more they want to give up to get him. They’ve already settled on the players going to Arizona – now the question is how much cash will change Upton’s mind. That could be in the form of a contract extension, but for a player in Upton’s situation, he might not want to sign a long term commitment before getting a chance to play in his new home, especially since he’s on track to hit free agency after his age 27 season. Instead of an extension, perhaps the Mariners best bait is to either shorten the commitment, or to give him a player option.

Right now, Upton is under contract for the next three years, with guaranteed salaries of $9.75 million in 2013, $14.25 million in 2014, and $14.5 million in 2015. The team could potentially offer him a player option for 2016 — likely valued in that same $15 million range — or offer to convert the 2015 portion of his guaranteed years into a player option, allowing him to opt out and become a free agent a year early if he’s not enjoying his time in Seattle. By making that kind of concession, the Mariners would essentially be giving him his choice of an extra $15ish million in guaranteed money, or by giving him the chance to pick his next destination earlier than he would if he went somewhere else.

Maybe the Mariners aren’t willing to make that kind of offer, since they’re presumably surrendering a good amount of talent to get him in the first place, and this will all die off as the team turns to Plan B. But, just because Upton said no to accepting a deal without compensation doesn’t mean that the Mariners can’t change his mind. Especially if Arizona tells him that they’re not trading him to one of his preferred destinations, leaving his options between staying with an organization that openly talks negatively about him or to going to a team that actually wants him.

Upton isn’t a free agent. He doesn’t get to pick where he plays next year, but he can use his no-trade clause to get himself into a better situation. Now, it’s up to the Mariners to see if they can convince him that Seattle is a better situation. They have tools at their disposal to try. Don’t be surprised if they use them.

Update: Jerry Crasnick reports that Upton’s no-trade list for this year is BOS, TOR, CHC, and SEA. So, basically, they swapped out the Yankees (known to not be committing to more than one year deals) and Indians (were strong reported to be off-season sellers) for the Blue Jays and Mariners, two teams who had a ton of salary coming off the books and a strong desire to add offense. For those of you clinging to the idea that this is all about the park, Toronto is one of the best places in baseball for a right-handed power hitter.

Edgar and the Hall

January 9, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 37 Comments 

The Hall of Fame ballots were released today, and this year, no one got in. Edgar Martinez maintained his 36% vote threshold, so he remains on the ballot, but is nowhere close to being elected. And, while I would be in favor of his election, the reality is that he’s not getting in any time soon, and maybe not ever.

With the glut of players coming on the ballot, the down-ballot carryovers have no real chance of being elected any time soon. With the voting body throwing their hands in the air and deciding that electing worthy players is just too difficult of a job, even slam-dunk candidates are getting shut out. For Edgar, the only real hope is that, in 10 years, the logjam has been cleared, and he gets a huge late push like Jack Morris has, and the voting pool changes towards folks who are more open to newer metrics that show Martinez’s value.

But, until then, this is basically going to be an annual “nope, not this year” post. There’s nothing we can do about it. All the campaigning in the world won’t help changing the pool of voters, and the current pool of voters aren’t going to ever put Edgar in.

Brief Mike Morse Thoughts

January 8, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 41 Comments 

Adam LaRoche re-signed with the Nationals, so Mike Morse is now on the trade block. Over at FanGraphs, I wrote about his expected value for 2013. Over at Lookout Landing, Jeff wrote about Mike Morse as a fit for the Mariners. If you want to know what I think about Mike Morse, read those two things.

Short version. Morse is okay. He’s basically Kendrys Morales. He’s also not an outfielder. The Mariners could use an outfielder. They do not have room for any more 1B/DH types. Trading something useful for Morse, just so he can add to an overloaded logjam at those two positions, would probably be a bad idea.

There’s going to be a push for the Mariners to acquire Morse because “he’s a bat”, and the Mariners need “bats”. But the reality is that you can’t just trade for a bat. You trade for a player, and the player has to play a position, and the Mariners already have players at the positions Mike Morse can play with any degree of skill.

Mike Morse is basically Casper Wells, just with a little more power and a lot less defense. Do you want to replace Casper Wells with an older, more expensive, less flexible version? I don’t. I’ll pass on Morse, thanks.

Justin Upton and Park Effects

January 4, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 34 Comments 

I have a post up over on FanGraphs about Justin Upton, but it’s really more about home/road splits in general and how they should be used. Quoting the conclusion, but you should read it all to see why the conclusion exists:

Whatever you do, though, don’t just look at a player’s road stats and assume that it’s a window into his real talent level, with the difference between his home and road stats being a mirage of the park he played in. That’s simply not how home/road splits work.

A lot of people look at Justin Upton and think he won’t hit in Seattle because his road numbers suck. A lot of people look at the Mariners hitters from last year and think that they’re all actually good because their road numbers were good and their home numbers sucked, thus Safeco just screwed everyone over. Those conclusions are easy to draw. Those conclusions are not completely accurate, though, and you shouldn’t be willing to so easily use split data to come to such conclusions.

Justin Upton is better than his road numbers indicate. Jesus Montero, Kyle Seager, and Michael Saunders are probably worse than their road numbers indicate. You want to adjust for park effects, but do it correctly. Realize that Justin Upton won’t hit as well in Seattle as he does in Arizona, while at the same time realizing that Justin Upton is a good hitter who will likely be a productive offensive player no matter where he calls home.

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