Lloyd McClendon: Leader Of These Men

November 5, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 44 Comments 

For FanGraphs, right now, I’m writing about a new trend around MLB toward hiring managers with little or no managerial background. Mike Matheny didn’t have a track record when he was hired by the Cardinals. Neither did Robin Ventura when he was hired by the White Sox, and neither did Walt Weiss when he was hired by the Rockies. Recently, the Tigers hired Brad Ausmus, and the Reds promoted Bryan Price, and the Nationals hired Matt Williams. It feels to me like six is meaningful — it feels to me teams around the league are less afraid of inexperience than ever before. Word is the Mariners are hiring Lloyd McClendon. He’s been the only guy linked to the Mariners who’s managed much before. He was in charge of the Pirates for five years at the beginning of the millennium, and the Pirates totally sucked.

On this basis alone, it’s beyond easy to be cynical. It was probably going to be easy to be cynical, regardless, since cynicism is our Seattle Mariners battle station, but here the team is visibly going against a new trend. It’s hiring a guy with a history, and whose history wasn’t successful. The Mariners are passing up an opportunity to try something new and different, something which might really shake things up.

Read more

Dave’s 2014 Off-Season Plan

November 5, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 64 Comments 

This was, by far, the hardest off-season plan post I’ve ever done. For one, you’ve probably noticed that I’m not writing here nearly as often as I used to. Part of that is that my life has gotten busier, and I’ve committed to spending more time with my friends and family since getting leukemia — side note: clean checkup on Friday, now 25 months in remission, huzzah — but part of that is also that my interest in this franchise is waning. It’s not gone, and it never will be gone, I’m sure, but the Mariners have made themselves far less likable, and far less interesting, and in general, I just don’t get the same satisfaction in writing about the Mariners as I used to. For the first time, this post feels like an obligation. I’m basically putting it out there because I know a lot of you want to read it, not because I particularly wanted to write it.

And I think part of that reality comes from a place of just knowing that the actual decisions being made this winter are being made in an awkward situation, where the front office almost certainly has a mandate to put a winning team on the field in 2014 even though they don’t have a roster that resembles anything close to a winning team. This feels like the Mariners are headed into the off-season that the Royals had last year, sacrificing the long term future for a short term run at mediocrity because everyone’s tired of losing. Maybe I’m reading this all wrong, and maybe they’re going to make good decisions and add a bunch of quality players at reasonable prices, but that’s not at all what I’m expecting them to do, and my guess is that it’s not what their marching orders are either.

So, I’m basically making a bunch of suggestions to try and reach an end goal — a winning Mariners team in 2014 — that I’m not even sure is reasonably likely. This team is far away from being good, and it’s going to take a lot of good outcomes to make them into even a winning club, much less a legitimate contender. But I don’t think saying that my off-season plan is to keep making smart moves until the team is ready to win actually helps anyone, because that probably wouldn’t fly for the front office this winter, so instead, I’m going to make a bunch of suggestions that I think could maybe get them as close as possible to a winning team without totally burning the future to the ground.

It requires some risks, and yes, it requires an increase in payroll, but with the national TV money getting disbursed to each franchise, not raising payroll this year would be akin to slashing it in prior years. Just to keep up with the rest of the league, payroll should go up. I’m not asking for any more than that, because an off-season plan that assumes a $125 million payroll doesn’t help anyone either. So, I’m going for a $95 million payroll, not including random 40 man guys, incentives, and all the extras the Mariners include in their calculations to boost the number and make it sound better. They would probably calculate that this team cost over $100 million when all is said and done. But if they want to win next year, they have to spend more money, because they’re so far away from being good that there’s no real way to get from where they are to where they want to be without buying some free agents. And free agents are expensive, so if they’re going to tell the front office to put a winning team on the field, they have to allow the front office to spend more money.

Again, I don’t think any of this is necessarily the right plan for the organization right now. I think that would have involved an organizational overhaul, a realistic assessment of where the team’s talent base currently is, and a solid plan to get the team to a sustained level of success. But that’s not what the Mariners are doing. So, with the caveat that this is an attempt to build a plan that works within what the Mariners are doing, here’s my 2014 Off-Season Plan.

Sign C Brian McCann to a six year, $90 million contract.

Trade James Paxton, Nick Franklin, and Yoervis Medina to Colorado for OF Dexter Fowler, MI Josh Rutledge, and RP Matt Belisle.

Sign OF Chris Young to a two year, $14 million contract.

Sign DH Corey Hart to a one year, $6 million contract with a bunch of incentives.

Sign SP Chris Capuano to a two year, $8 million contract.

Sign SP Roberto Hernandez to a one year, $3.5 million contract.

Sign RP Jose Veras to a one year, $3 million contract.

Sign MI Ryan Roberts to a one year, $1.7 million contract.

Analysis of these moves below, but for a second, here is what the imagined opening day roster might look like, along with projected batting orders against both righties and lefties.

Position Player Salary   Position Player Salary
C Brian McCann $15,000,000   SP Felix Hernandez $23,000,000
1B Justin Smoak $2,800,000   SP Hisashi Iwakuma $6,500,000
2B Dustin Ackley $500,000   SP Chris Capuano $4,000,000
SS Brad Miller $500,000   SP Taijuan Walker $500,000
3B Kyle Seager $600,000   SP Roberto Hernandez $3,500,000
LF Dexter Fowler $7,350,000        
CF Chris Young $7,000,000   CL Danny Farquhar $500,000
RF Michael Saunders $2,000,000   RH Matt Belisle $4,250,000
DH Corey Hart $6,000,000   LH Charlie Furbush $600,000
        RH Jose Veras $3,000,000
C Mike Zunino $500,000   RH Stephen Pryor $500,000
IF Josh Rutledge $500,000   LH Brian Moran $500,000
IF Ryan Roberts $1,700,000   RH Erasmo Ramirez $500,000
OF Abraham Almonte $500,000        
        Declined Saunders/Gutierrez $1,000,000
        DL Danny Hultzen $1,700,000
Total   $95,000,000        
Vs RHB Player Bats Position   Vs LHB Player Bats Position
1 Brad Miller L SS   1 Dexter Fowler S LF
2 Kyle Seager L 3B   2 Ryan Roberts R 2B
3 Corey Hart R DH   3 Corey Hart R DH
4 Brian McCann L C   4 Brian McCann L 1B
5 Dexter Fowler S LF   5 Chris Young R CF
6 Michael Saunders L RF   6 Kyle Seager L 3B
7 Chris Young R CF   7 Mike Zunino R C
8 Justin Smoak S 1B   8 Brad Miller L SS
9 Dustin Ackley L 2B   9 Abraham Almonte S RF
Bench Mike Zunino R C   Bench Justin Smoak S 1B
Bench Josh Rutledge R IF   Bench Dustin Ackley L IF
Bench Abraham Almonte S OF   Bench Michael Saunders L OF
Bench Ryan Roberts R IF   Bench Josh Rutledge R IF

Okay, now the explanations.

The Overview

This plan is weird. It calls for the team to commit big money on a long term deal for an aging catcher when they have invested a lot into Mike Zunino and anointed him the catcher of the present and future. It spends $7.5 million on two starting pitchers after trading away a starting pitcher who would make $500K next year. It spends another $7.5 million on two relievers, even though relievers are fickle and spending money on bullpen pieces often works out poorly. It calls for Justin Smoak to remain a regular, even though I don’t think Justin Smoak is worthy of a regular starting gig on a team trying to win in 2014. I imagine your first read over this will be “this is nuts”. It kind of is.

But hopefully the result of a lot of nutty decisions would be a team that had very few just glaring, unsolvable problems. This team, as constructed, would run three platoons, leaving only the backup shortstop without a defined role in the line-up on a regular basis. It would restore the outfield defense that has historically roamed around Safeco Field, giving the team’s pitching staff a chance to actually have their fly balls turned into outs once in a while. It adds a couple of guys who thump left-handed pitching, plus a slugging lefty who should enjoy pulling balls down the right field line at Safeco, and a 28-year-old switch hitting outfielder who could actually be a productive piece to both improve the team and build around going forward. It creates a pretty deep bullpen, and gives the team six Major League starting pitchers, so they’re not totally screwed if and when one of the original starting five get hurt or end up being terrible.

It’s not a great team. It might not even be a good team. But it has a chance to be a good team, and it doesn’t kill the team’s future. It’s the best balance I could figure out how to strike. It might be too balanced, producing neither a winner next year nor in the future, but if the mandate is to put a good team on the field without punting the farm system in a desperate hail mary, then I think this at least heads that direction.

The Specifics

Let’s start with the two big pieces that are likely to draw 95% of the reaction; throwing a ton of money at a catcher and trading Paxton and Franklin for an okay hitter at altitude with bad road numbers. McCann first.

First off, note that this is not a situation where McCann is displacing Zunino entirely. By having him split his time between catching and first base, it would essentially create a three way job share between McCann, Zunino, and Smoak. McCann would get the opportunity to be an everyday player and not have to DH — a thing that some players really dislike doing, so keeping him away from DH would be a nice carrot in negotiations — while Zunino and Smoak essentially fight over one job. If Zunino improves dramatically and proves to be ready for regular catching duty, he could essentially split time behind the plate with McCann, keeping both fresh and well rested.

But there’s also the reality that Zunino may very well not be ready to be a big leaguer yet. He was not very good in Seattle and particularly terrible in Tacoma last year, and the team should at least be prepared for the fact that he might need more time in Triple-A. If they go into the season with Zunino and some random backup behind the plate, and Zunino proves overmatched, then they have a glaring hole that could essentially sink their season. Signing McCann as your “big bat” provides a top flight option behind the plate while also giving you the flexibility to have him play a decent amount of first base if Zunino proves ready to play more regularly.

And yes, I know that McCann is a lot less valuable at first base than he is at catcher, and paying $90 million to a catcher only to have him spend a decent chunk of his time not catching sounds stupid. But you shouldn’t look at McCann’s offensive numbers as a catcher and then just assume they’ll stay the same at first base. There’s a decent amount of historical precedent for guys improving their offensive production when they move out from behind the plate, and McCann should be expected to hit a little bit better when he’s playing first base than when he’s catching. And if the job share works correctly, you’re not so much as shifting games caught to games played at first base as you are taking days off and moving those to games played.

An “everyday” catcher in the big leagues starts about 110 games per year behind the plate. Matt Wieters was the league leader in games started catcher last year with 134, but most of the regulars were around 100 to 120. The rest of the time, most of them sit and watch. That’s 40 to 50 off days a year, where they’re not playing because of the physical demands of their job. By having McCann share catching duties with Zunino, you could aim for something closer to a 90/70 split, and then McCann could start another 50-60 games at first base, and all of the sudden you have his bat in the line-up 140 or 150 times instead of 110.

Depending on how quickly Zunino develops over the next few years, McCann would eventually move into more of a starting first baseman/reserve catcher role, but the Mariners could keep using him behind the plate for 40-50 times per year in order even as he gets older as long as he’s healthy enough to keep catching. Rather than phasing him out of catching entirely, they could offer him a path to an everyday job that still allows him to catch about 1/3 of the time, even as he gets older. This would likely be a more appealing sales pitch than having him start at catcher and move to DH in a few years, and it would be a better use of his skills, since he is a good defensive catcher and would only be changing positions to keep his body healthy.

So, instead of pursuing a defensively challenged 1B only and then trying to find a player good enough to share time with Zunino but not too good to want to catch everyday, McCann offers a nifty combination of depth at both catcher and first base, without forcing the team to use two roster spots to plug these holes. He gives the team a power hitting left-hander, but also gives them the flexibility to not have to depend on both Zunino and Smoak as everyday players in 2014, and can be positioned for the future depending on who develops and who doesn’t.

Now, to the trade. I imagine that the first response to trading James Paxton and Nick Franklin to acquire Dexter Fowler (and stuff) is going to be pretty negative. I know that a lot of people like these two guys more than I do, and are going to see this as giving up on a hard throwing lefty and a power hitting second baseman way too early in their careers, especially given that Fowler only has two years of team control remaining and would be something of an unknown quantity getting transported from Coors Field to Safeco Field.

However, if the Mariners want to win sooner than later, this is the kind of move they have to make. They have to exchange some upside and long term potential for a short term upgrade somewhere, and by targeting a guy like Fowler — who is going into his age-28 season next year — you’re not totally punting the future as much as betting on a different looking future. Fowler’s a switch-hitter in his theoretical prime who hasn’t really lived up to offensive expectations of when he was a prospect yet, but has still developed into a pretty solid player in spite of maybe being a bit of a disappointment. In some ways, he’s Colorado’s Michael Saunders.

I know that probably isn’t a reassuring comment, especially for people who got very excited by Paxton’s final start of the season. But I think the idea of James Paxton is likely going to be better than the reality of James Paxton for quite a while, as his command problems are still very real and unlikely to go away any time soon. The Rockies play in a park where walks and groundballs are actually a pretty good combination relative to letting opposing batters make contact, and flipping Fowler for Paxton and Franklin would give them a power arm for their rotation and shed some payroll that they could use to go sign the “power bat” they’re craving this winter. I know that often times the trades suggested in these posts get scoffed at by the fans of the opposing team, but I’d guess the Rockies would love this kind of package, as it sets them up to have exactly the kind of off-season they’re hoping for.

But it also solves a bunch of problems for the Mariners. Paxton can be replaced in the rotation at a lower cost than a new outfielder can be imported via free agency, and the pieces coming along with Fowler would provide some value as well. Matt Belisle is one of the game’s most underrated relievers, and could step in nicely to an 8th inning setup role or move into the closer’s job if Danny Farquhar falters. Josh Rutledge would provide a right-handed hitting infielder who could serve as a reserve for the three left-handers, and has some offensive upside in his own right. But Fowler is, of course, the key to this deal.

Projecting a position player leaving Colorado is always tricky, and often, people will simply look at his road numbers and treat those as something close to his “true talent level”. That’s not how it works, though. Hitting at altitude doesn’t just help you help hit better there, but there’s a decent amount of evidence that it actually hurts you when you’re not hitting at altitude. Breaking balls move in the other 29 parks in a way that they don’t move in Denver, and going on the road after two weeks of seeing flat hanging sliders can require a dramatic adjustment. You can’t just take Fowler’s road numbers and assume that’s what he would hit in Seattle. Park adjusting his offensive numbers is a better path, and shows that Fowler’s been an above average hitter the last three years even after taking Coors Field into account, but even this isn’t perfect. We really don’t know how Fowler would do at sea level. It is a risk, certainly, that his offense was boosted more than we know by his home park, and perhaps he would lose all of his power without the thin air helping his fly balls carry.

But, at the same time that we have to expect his offensive numbers to decline somewhat, we should expect his defensive performance to get better. Coors Field’s primary trait is inflating hits on balls in play, and this means that nearly every Colorado outfielder rates very poorly in defensive metrics. Metrics like UZR and DRS are park adjusted, but just like offense is different at Coors Field, so is defense, and balls that Fowler did not get to in Colorado may hang up long enough for him to run them down in Seattle. Physically, he’s got the natural skills to be a center fielder, but like Saunders, he might end up profiling better as a plus defender in a corner. Add in average offense and you’ve got a pretty good everyday player in his prime. He’s not Jacoby Ellsbury, but he’s a decent approximation of that kind of player at a much lower price, which allows the team to actually fill the rest of the holes they need to fill.

With Fowler and Saunders flanking newly signed free agent center fielder Chris Young, the team’s outfield defense would once again be among the best in the league. Young’s bat has heavily regressed since his days in Arizona, but there’s still some upside left, and even if he’s just a plus defender in center who mashes left-handers, that makes him kind of a healthier Franklin Gutierrez. Average hitting center fielders who can play defense aren’t that easy to find, and Young has the chance to get back to that level, while also providing some necessary power against left-handed pitching.

Speaking of thump against lefties, that brings us to Corey Hart. He’s coming off two knee surgeries, and spent all of 2013 on the disabled list, so while he’s said he wants to return to Milwaukee, spending a season as a DH and proving he can stay healthy is probably a better long term plan. Jack drafted Hart back in 2000 and clearly knows him well, and Hart would fit in well as a cheaper Kendrys Morales replacement. If he proves healthy enough to play the field, that gives you another option at first base in case Smoak doesn’t hit, and maybe he even gets a little time in the outfield, though I’d call that unlikely given his health issues. He’s a gamble, certainly, but the right-handed power is legitimate, and the Mariners could be a nice landing spot for Hart to prove that he’s ready to be an everyday player again.

That’s the big moves. The minor ones are essentially filling holes.

Chris Capuano replaces Paxton in the rotation, and provides a lefty who can throw strikes and get some strikeouts while giving up the occasional longball. It’s like getting Jason Vargas back, basically, except he should come cheaper because he’s older and coming off a season where the Dodgers kept bouncing him from the rotation to the bullpen.

Roberto Hernandez provides more depth for the rotation, and is another bet on peripherals instead of ERA. If he flops, then Erasmo Ramirez is ready to take his job, and he could turn into a right-handed bullpen option for when the team needs a double play. If his home run rate comes back to normal, then he’s a cheap 5th starter who keeps the team from having to turn to Blake Beavan ever again.

Ryan Roberts comes in as a utility infielder to platoon with Dustin Ackley and back up Kyle Seager. He’s always hit lefties well and has a ridiculous amount of energy, so he’s kind of perfect as your off-the-bench spark plug.

Jose Veras hits the market after a poor postseason and getting rejected by the Tigers, who didn’t exercise his $4 million option, but he’s still a solid enough right-handed reliever who can get lefties out often enough to not be a total specialist. He’d give the team some more depth and another possible closer option if Farquhar faltered. I don’t love spending money on the bullpen, and perhaps the development of Pryor and Capps would make this redundant, but the bullpen could use an upgrade and Veras is a decent value at a few million bucks.

The team can afford to plug those holes because McCann/Fowler/Young/Hart only cost about $35 million between them. If the team spends $20 million on Ellsbury and another $15 million on Morales, it’s almost impossible to see how they’re going to also find room for another outfielder along with upgrades at both catcher and first base, so I’d rather split the $35 million four ways than put it in the Ellsbury/Morales pairing.

The costs of this move are punting on the futures of Paxton and Franklin and betting on McCann to age well. However, I think Rutledge offers some of the same strengths as Franklin while also fitting better into the team’s structure since he’s right-handed, and Fowler’s future production can offset the loss of Paxton if he succeeds as an above average OF and the team re-signs him before he gets to free agency. Betting six years on McCann should be a little less scary since the Mariners wouldn’t be asking him to be a full time catcher for six years, and $15 million for a good-not-great hitter seems to be about going rate now even without including the defensive value that comes from having him catch.

Is this team good enough to win next year? Maybe, maybe not. They would need Ackley to remember how to hit, Hart to stay healthy, Walker to develop into a consistent starter, and one of Zunino or Smoak to take a big step forward, plus not have any disastrous injuries that exposed the organization’s lack of depth. There are a lot of things that could go wrong here, but it would at least give them a chance to be a winner in 2014, and it would keep the most important parts of the team’s future in place for the long term.

Best guess? I think this is probably an 80 to 85 win team, but it has a chance to outperform that, and maybe get Seattle interested in baseball again. Who knows, maybe they’d even get me interested in the team again too.

Goodbye, Franklin Gutierrez / Bring Back Franklin Gutierrez

November 1, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 41 Comments 

Last offseason, the Mariners agreed to pay Joe Saunders $6.5 million, and then he pitched like Joe Saunders would pitch in front of a bad defense. Today, the Mariners have turned down an opportunity to pay Joe Saunders $6.5 million, leaving him a free agent. It absolutely makes sense, and I’m by no means saying the Mariners made a bad decision, but there’s a cynical angle here for anybody who feels like being in a bad mood. You don’t even have to look that hard for it. The Mariners make it pretty easy.

But the other news is that the Mariners also declined the 2014 option for Franklin Gutierrez, leaving him a free agent as well. Gutierrez will therefore be exposed to the market, as the team wasn’t going to commit $7 million after all the problems he’s had, and the probability is that Gutierrez’s days in this uniform are over. That’s by no means guaranteed, and the Mariners are more familiar with him than anyone else, but that might be the whole point, and it would be easy to see another team viewing Gutierrez as a high-upside potential bargain. Put most simply, if a guy can sign with any one of 30 teams, the odds of his signing with one team are pretty small.

I remain convinced that Gutierrez captures the very essence of this whole experience. Maybe more now than ever, I don’t know. We’re fully aware of Gutierrez’s potential, because we got to see him around his ceiling for an entire season, not far back. We’re also, simultaneously, fully aware of Gutierrez’s capacity to disappoint, sometimes for predictable reasons, sometimes because of a disease few of us had ever heard of before. Probably, Franklin Gutierrez is going to let you down. But what if he doesn’t? What if he doesn’t? Can you imagine?

I personally find it almost impossible to objectively look past that upside. Perhaps because I don’t know if that would be truly objective. People always talk about certainty and reliability and whatnot as selling points, but how reliable is a supposedly reliable player, really? Upside is real, and upside can drive high-achieving seasons. If Gutierrez had spent the last several years with another organization, we’d identify him now as a potential free-agent bargain. As is, plenty of people will say they’re all out of patience, totally ready to move on, but I can’t move on, not while I know what Gutierrez can do.

An average, reliable player might give you an average performance for 100 games, or 160 games. A player like Gutierrez might give you anything across a vast spectrum. He’s a risk, but are the Mariners not in the very position to take some little risks? Right now they probably project as something like a 70-win ballclub. Who’s going to thumb their nose to upside? My sense this past season was that the Mariners were more than ready to move on, once Gutierrez was sidelined again, but a lot of that sense was coming from Eric Wedge, and now Eric Wedge isn’t here anymore. The guy who most loved Gutierrez isn’t here anymore, either, but, you never know. Maybe Zduriencik still sees the glimmer. He has been watching the Mariners.

And Gutierrez did some interesting things late last season. When he was sick, and I mean really sick, the biggest issue was his lack of strength. He didn’t have any quickness, he didn’t have any muscle. Last year he batted 151 times, and he clobbered ten home runs. That’s twice as many as Mike Zunino. That’s half as many as Justin Smoak, in 29% the time. I’m going to cheat, here, but let’s set a minimum of 150 plate appearances and sort the league leaderboard by isolated slugging percentage (SLG – BA). We find Guti at .255, and we find David Ortiz at .255. There’s Paul Goldschmidt at .249. Guti’s in 11th out of 399, and while he’s behind some guys like Jeff Baker, Donnie Murphy, and Ryan Raburn, there are sluggers up there, too. Lots of ’em. There’s reason to believe Guti has his power back, which means there’s reason to believe his health situation is at least manageable.

He’ll never be what he was that one year. At this point it’s a physical impossibility. He’s older, so his defense won’t be as good, and he’s more careful, so his defense won’t be as good. Same goes for his baserunning. And Gutierrez has spoken about the difficulty of playing too many days in a row, so he’ll probably never be an everyday guy. But he’s a guy who can handle center and swing the bat, and he’s not yet super old. He’ll be 31 next February, but that’s 31 with a lot of medical attention and lesser wear and tear. It’s a fragile 31, but a talented and capable 31.

Maybe he could be good for 400 plate appearances. Maybe 500, if you really stretch. The neat thing about Gutierrez in this market is he shouldn’t require that much of a commitment, given, you know, what he is. No one’s going to look at him and see an everyday player, because that would be silly. At most, he’s a regular, and a regular you want to support with perfectly capable backup types. Outfielders with versatility who are good enough to play but maybe not good enough to start right out of the gate. Outfielders like Michael Saunders and Abe Almonte. In those two, the Mariners would have some depth, in the event that they kept Gutierrez and he needed some time off. And they’d play often enough that it wouldn’t feel like they were wasting away on the bench. With Gutierrez in the fold, there’s playing time for lots of guys.

The Mariners need help in the outfield, badly, especially if Nick Franklin or Dustin Ackley gets moved. They need help beyond what Gutierrez could provide, because what they need are starters. But that’s a separate issue, and I see room for Gutierrez here if the front office isn’t too sick of him. Guarantee some millions with incentives. Include a 2015 vesting option for a good amount of money that Gutierrez could trigger with modest playing time. Let him know that he’ll get his money if he stays on the field, and give him that chance, again. It’s not like it’s Gutierrez or a guy like Ellsbury or Choo. This team needs a lot of help. If you want to dream, dream away, because lots of people can fit.

Odds are, the Mariners won’t be real good in 2014, so this is a time to take some shorter-term chances. A good 2014 Mariners team would need good performances from a wide variety of players, and Gutierrez is at least capable of that, if he can play more than half the time. With Saunders and Almonte, the Mariners could survive another injury by planning for it ahead. I don’t know what there is to lose, provided Gutierrez doesn’t cost a fortune. Money and games? The Mariners have been losing money and games for a decade. I mean, they’ve been earning money, but losing money on underproductive players. If Gutierrez were to under-produce, or not produce at all, that’d be a bummer, but the process would’ve been okay and the season wouldn’t be instantly tanked.

Do it. Do it, unless some other team blows Gutierrez out of the water for some reason with a big contract guarantee. Do it, unless the team knows something particular about Gutierrez’s condition that dooms him to an ever-disappointing remainder of his career. Do it, because Gutierrez has been awesome here once, and he helped the team play good baseball and galvanize a downtrodden fan base. Things have been dark ever since, but you can always surprise, and surprises are always explicable when you examine how they took place. If Gutierrez were to have a productive 2014 over semi-regular playing time, would that really come as a shock?

Maybe I’m just completely blinded by upside, upside that might not really exist anymore, upside you could find somewhere else. I know I’m not completely rational about guys like this, in the way that a lot of people weren’t always rational about Rich Harden before. But, actually, I think they were on to something. Between 2008-2009, Harden posted a 3.07 ERA over 51 starts. The two years before, he posted a worse ERA over 13. Talent before durability. Durability gets you Joe Saunders and Jon Garland. Talent can get you nothing, or everything.

« Previous Page