So It’s Come To This, Again
Used to be that words came a lot easier. I remember one time sitting down to write something about baseball, and it was going to be something long, and in about three hours, I pounded out the equivalent of 25 pages double-spaced. Felt like a lot, felt like a lot in a hurry, and I was pleased with the result. It’s still somewhere online and no one ever said it was stupid. Things now don’t work like they used to. On my bad days, I take it as a sign of decline, of declining passion and declining capability. On my good days, I take it as a sign of evolution, since now there’s a lot more thought taking place before there’s a single word on an Internet page. I know that I’m a different writer now than I was years ago. I think most people are. I’m referring specifically to baseball analysts, but it probably applies more generally, too.
Willie Bloomquist was a Mariner when I was younger and more energetic. More invested, more quick and ready to express myself. Now he’s a Mariner again, for probably a couple of seasons, and I’ve changed. Somewhat remarkably, he hasn’t, despite his advancing age, but that’s a point in his favor. For me and for all of us, this is another chance with Willie, a chance after a years-long break. It’s not a chance I’m looking forward to, but I’m interested by the response.
This news was destined to be an Internet catastrophe. The Mariners didn’t just sign a utility player for $5.8 million — they signed Willie Ballgame for $5.8 million, and Willie’s been a mascot and punching bag for a decade. The old Baseball Prospectus used to rip on him without mercy, and that was greatly influential. Even to this very day, I think a lot of us responded in the same way: when news broke, people laughed and shook their heads and said “of course”. If everything were the same and his name were Pete Snorkel, it’d just be a weird signing for a bit too much money. But that’s not his name; his actual name makes it funnier. It’s easy to chuckle and point to this as the latest evidence of the Mariners being a laughingstock.
I wanted to just laugh at them, too. Still do. Still want to do nothing but just shred them on Twitter, like people do when a team signs Yuniesky Betancourt or Delmon Young. As for a blog post, 1000 words making fun of the Mariners for being stupid? Simple. Been there before. I think I have templates. It’s embarrassing, right? It’s something to laugh about, right, something that proves the front office is clueless?
I know exactly how I would’ve responded to this if I were still the same writer as before. These days, I can’t help but try to look for reason. It takes time and maybe it isn’t always necessary, but I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable assuming I know what I’m doing more than executives do. Even some of the worse executives. I am convinced the Mariners didn’t need to do this, I am convinced they’ve guaranteed too big of a commitment, but there’s some sense. I see this now as a move that’s not great or good, but I understand the thinking.
I’m responsible for covering the AL West in the FanGraphs team depth charts, and when I’ve worked on the Mariners, I’ve struggled with playing time for infield backups. Before today, the team simply didn’t have a utility infielder beyond Carlos Triunfel, and the starters up the middle are Brad Miller and Nick Franklin, unproven youths, the both of them. Every team needs to have depth, and every team needs to have some infield insurance. The Mariners didn’t have that in the organization, so they needed to get some.
Willie fills that hole. He’s worse than Nick Punto, but Punto’s from California and he signed with the A’s, and the A’s are good and the Mariners aren’t. Here are contracts that have gone to similar players of late:
- Willie Bloomquist: 2 years, $5.8 million
- Nick Punto: 1 year, $3 million, or 2 years, $5.5 million with vesting option
- Brendan Ryan: 2 years, $5 million
- Skip Schumaker: 2 years, $5 million
Technically, Punto was given just one guaranteed year, but his 2015 option vests if he doesn’t spend too much time next year on the disabled list, and he hasn’t been on the DL since 2011. Increasingly, utility sorts are getting multiple years, and Willie is just coming off of a two-year contract. He’ll be paid the most money of the guys above, but he also signed with the worst team, a team with more money to spend than it might be capable of spending.
Again, I don’t think there was any need for urgency. Bloomquist wasn’t the only available option. Jayson Nix just got non-tendered. There are guys like Ramon Santiago and Elliot Johnson. The Mariners might’ve been able to get a better value by holding out, or maybe at least they could’ve limited things to a one-year commitment. The way things look, it’s as if the Mariners were in a rush to sign Willie Bloomquist, which sounds hilarious to people who are not us. It fits with the current caricature of the people in charge, and everybody likes blending baseball with humor.
But you do have a pretty good idea what you get from Willie Bloomquist. He can post two-thirds of a half-decent slash line, he can play a lot of positions, even if not particularly well, and he knows and understands his role. He’s not the younger version of himself who wanted so desperately to be a starter. He might still want that, but by now he’s come to terms with the reality. Willie’s been around, on good teams and bad teams, and he brings a lot of experience to a team that’s presently incredibly young, and I’m trying so desperately to not say too much about his familiarity with the area. It doesn’t hurt that people will like having him back. More significantly, he’s being paid to be worth a win over two years, and futzing over the details and likelihoods overlooks the fact that that’s hardly any money. Willie’s contract isn’t going to prevent the Mariners from doing anything else. They were probably going to target some kind of veteran infield backup. Now that’s done and the actual important moves will follow in some order.
That’s where I’m actually worried. I already don’t trust this front office, and Bloomquist has nothing to do with that. As much fun as it is to say he’s an indicator of everything that’s wrong with the team, he’s getting paid less than $3 million a year at a time when money like $3 million means less than ever. It’s not the little mistakes, where the Mariners might pay a bit too much for veteran experience and leadership. What I don’t like are the links to guys like Nelson Cruz. What I don’t like are the links to proven free-agent closers. Teams get sunk by the big mistakes, not the bench players, and while you might’ve wanted a better bench player than Willie Bloomquist, there aren’t very many of those who are available and who aren’t starters. Bloomquist isn’t good, but players in his role usually aren’t. He doesn’t out-and-out suck, so, all right.
This is all to say, I’m trying really hard to be open-minded. I’m trying really hard to give some of the benefit of the doubt to people I already don’t trust very much. I’m trying really hard to not just automatically laugh at Willie Bloomquist, because while the early days of baseball analysis were a lot of fun, people also sounded like self-important dicks. There’s always nuance, there’s always some reason a bad thing isn’t as bad as it initially seems. Willie fills a role for a bit too much money. A year ago, the brilliant Cardinals stupidly guaranteed two years and too much money to Ty Wigginton. I’m not saying the Mariners are run like the Cardinals are, but the things that matter aren’t found on the bench. This isn’t worth a freakout.
Save the freakouts for the real bad stuff. Real bad stuff like the Tigers’ trade of Doug Fister to the Nationals. Save the freakouts and hope you never have to dip into them. An organization that actually sucks will provide ample opportunity for you to lose your shit. There’s no need to force it, and it’s probably bad for you.