Mariners Needed to Change; Mariners In Process of Changing

marc w · December 7, 2013 at 12:32 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

You probably don’t need to read more about how some blogger feels about the Cano acquisition, but, hey, you’re reading a baseball blog. So if you’ll indulge me, this is the third panel of the Cano-analysis triptych.* Dave’s measured lament, Jeff’s cautious…excitement, and now this: I have talked myself into liking this. This is one of those cases where pretty much everyone agrees on the potential gains, the risks, and the alternatives. How you feel about the trade – beyond the universal vertiginous feeling that the phrase “10 years, $240 million” produces – depends on how much you emphasize one versus the other. So here’s what I’m emphasizing: the status quo, as of Thursday, was pretty damned awful.

Yes, yes, the objection is easy: that proves too much. Trading Hisashi Iwakuma for a proverbial can of Sprite would also “shake things up” and alter the status quo. Adding Robinson Cano, I think we can all agree, is not that sort of a shake up. The M’s have kept their valuable prospects (for now) and added one of the best players in baseball. As Jeff said, I’d hoped that this is the route they’d go down, and they have. But you can’t think about the potential careers of guys like Tai Walker and Chris Taylor or Brad Miller without ruminating on the failure (or at least disappointment) of the first wave of M’s prospects under Jack Z. Dustin Ackley is not chopped liver, but is closer to chopped liver than he is to peak-period Chase Utley. Johermyn was a slugger, then just “toolsy”, then a pitcher, and is now a minor league free agent. Danny Hultzen went from #3, to potential ace, to mechanical nightmare to hurt. Vinnie Catricala was great until one day, he wasn’t. Josh Fields. Carlos Triunfel. Alex Liddi. You get the picture.

Obviously, no team turns 100% of their top 10 into MLB regulars. But there was a moment there in 2009-10 when it seemed that the M’s just drafted and developed better than other teams. This club doesn’t need to play in free agency; if they need another lefty reliever, they’ve got 5 of them ready to go. Another middle infielder? Mac and GMZ grow them hydroponically. No one thinks that way anymore, for good reason. This team tried to build a winner by building a home-grown core and adding complementary pieces around it. They failed.

This wasn’t a case of a bad break here or there. Essentially each piece of the plan – technically, the execution of the plan – was flawed. The team clearly came into 2013 needing big years from the anointed line-up core of Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero. And as disappointing as those three have been, the record with the complementary pieces isn’t much better. Think back on Ian Snell, on Jack Cust, or Milton Bradley. Of course there’ve been some bargain-bin successes, like Russell Branyan, and, hilariously, Mike Sweeney. But the great feedback loop with vets helping prospects helping the next wave of prospects never materialized. They’ve tried it one way, and it hasn’t worked. Personally, I’m not eager to see them double down on the same strategy. Let’s be clear: the plan they tried to implement – develop a young core and add around it – was a *great* idea. That’s what all of us would recommend to any non-Yankees, non-Dodgers club. It’s just that this front office wasn’t good enough to pull it off.

So if you can’t trust an FO to spend wisely, how can you support a…there’s that feeling again…10 year, $240 million contract to one guy? Because there’s no way to avoid the fact that Cano is one of the five best ballplayers in the world. You develop your own core because it’s way, way cheaper than buying one off the shelf. Cheaper, but as we’ve seen, harder to do. So they’re paying retail and simply BUYING their franchise core. Could he implode? Sure he could. Would it be better to spread the risk around 2-3 very good free agents? Maybe, maybe not. If one of the alternatives has a degenerative hip condition and the other is an overrated free agent pitcher, I’m not sure you’ve radically altered the risk profile. Cano costs more because he comes with fewer questions. For whatever reason, the M’s haven’t been really good at finding great bargains (Iwakuma is the massive exception), so they paid for a sure thing.

Yes, the deal will look “bad” in seven years. The question is “how bad?” and “what will it prevent the M’s from doing?” If baseball inflation, fueled by dizzying TV revenue and MLBAM’s bargaining, continues the way it has, then the deal won’t be any sort of a problem. If it IS an impediment, there are two possible reasons why: one, that the M’s have added a lot of complementary pieces or signed some young stars to long extensions. That is, it’s a problem because the M’s finally identified their window, and are in the thick of the AL race. It would be frustrating if, in 2020, the Cano deal is a problem them, but *that is the kind of problem I would like to have.* I’m sick of the M’s current problem, which is a complete inability to play baseball at a level approaching that of their AL West rivals. The second reason the contract could be an impediment in 2020 is that the TV party is over, inflation stops or even kicks over into deflation, and the M’s regional sports network is an albatross and not a golden goose. Compared to this, the Cano contract is nothing – if the cable TV market implodes, then yes, it’s going to be tough to pay Cano. If the cable TV market implodes, though, the M’s (and baseball) will have much, much bigger problems than dead money to an aging 2B.

That the M’s now own a majority of their RSN actually helps align incentives here. There’s still no business I’d be more scared to invest in today than cable TV, but that decision was last year’s nervous-excited-dizzying move. If the M’s are to get some of that delicious, luxury-tax-shielded revenue from the RSN’s profits, the M’s need viewers. Right now, they don’t have any. It’s easy to say that the M’s got desperate and attempted to buy relevance instead of a contending team, but just because the M’s needed something doesn’t mean they bought the wrong thing. Of course adding Cano, by itself, won’t magically produce ratings like 2002’s. But the M’s got better yesterday, and they’ve got much better than they would have by waiting for one of the youngsters to develop into a superstar. The M’s have an opportunity to add pieces around Cano and be a good (not just “promising”) club in 2015.

This highlights a problem: we’re trying to evaluate this deal without knowing what else is coming. We can only see half the picture right now. This deal will look disappointing (not necessarily ‘terrible’) if their prospects continue to fizzle out and if they’re unable to add any meaningful talent around Cano. That is, they’d be in a very similar position that they’d be in without this move. The serious risk is several years out, when we have very little ability to measure it. That doesn’t mean that seeing this as a desperate gamble is necessarily wrong, it’s just that the M’s likely have several years to plan for and deal with the consequences of that gamble. The M’s could see what they have in 2014 and make a serious push at 2015. They could also make a couple of disastrous trades and make a run at 2014 instead. As Jeff mentioned, Price-for-Walker is the deal to worry about. You can argue that getting Cano makes those risks somehow more likely, as it’s now easier for someone to claim that the M’s are good enough to justify a win-now trade like Walker/Price, but the problem there doesn’t have anything to do with the Cano deal itself – you need to take some imaginative leaps and analytical failures to get to the really, really damaging part. Could the M’s screw this up? Of course, they’re the M’s. I’ve been about as pessimistic about this club as anyone, and it’s easy to itemize how to start with Cano and end with a smoldering wreck of an organization. We all want to guess at and second guess at the next two or three moves. But let’s look at this in isolation for a minute: the M’s just added a brilliant player (a brilliant *player* and not a brilliant ‘power hitter’ or ‘line-up legitimizer’ or whatever) and didn’t give up any talent to do so.

This could all go wrong, in 6 years or 6 weeks. But almost everything’s gone wrong for the past three years. The M’s added several wins at a stroke, and they have given themselves an opportunity to change the AL West race in a few years. I’m all for adding wisely, and building internally, but the gap between the M’s and the teams they’re chasing was so big, the task has seemed impossible. The M’s have in no way completed that task, and while they’ve added some risk way down the road, they’ve bought something really important for the next three-four years: possibility.

* I have unwittingly made Jeff’s post’s title a lie. Sorry Jeff. Sorry everyone.


19 Responses to “Mariners Needed to Change; Mariners In Process of Changing”

  1. cougs129 on December 7th, 2013 12:57 pm

    Great post. Finally a post that isn’t obnoxiously negative like everyone of dave the the downers

  2. MrZDevotee on December 7th, 2013 1:19 pm

    See, this is where I’m at… I guess I’m looking further out into the waters than just specifically Cano, in a bubble. My overall impression is that the circle of possibilities got infinitely larger by acquiring Cano.

    Last year the possibilities were what? Let’s try to keep 10 games within sight of whoever makes the playoffs? And we didn’t have a single position player that suggested “more of these and we can be there ourselves”. Now we have not just a position player who suggests success, we have possibly one of the 5 best players in baseball. And if you take into account his position, and the WAR he provides in that position, he’s actually maybe THE BEST player in baseball, value wise… By adding an annual 5 WAR, 25-30 HR’s, and an average of 140 OPS+ the past 4 years with your 2nd baseman, you are off the charts of that position’s potential, while not getting those numbers from a 1B or OF (traditional power positions). Which in turn means, by sticking 1B numbers at a non-traditional power position, you have huge potential to quickly add more of that at the TRADITIONAL positions. He’s a bonus player, practically, by having those numbers stacked at traditionally the weakest, most disposable position in a lineup.

    He offers so much more opportunity to improve the team because he provides top numbers at a position not usually supplying those numbers.

    And yes, it’s all dependent on putting MORE pieces out there around him, but he makes THAT more viable too. Last year we also didn’t have anybody that would be a “man, I’d like to play with that guy” sort of draw out to Seattle for free agents. Felix yes, but we’re concentrating on position guys. Now, if we’re out looking for a SS (Miller aside for the moment) guys will see “man I could tandem with the best 2B in the game, that would be cool”. Much different than “who’s Nick Franklin?” (google)

    I think one way to put the money in perspective (ie, rich guy perspective) is also to think of potential new owners… They’re not gonna think “crap I’ll be paying that guy a lot of money” they’re gonna think “I can own Robinson Freakin’ Cano! That’s a helluva start to building a baseball team!”

    I think it goes without saying that an owernship group says “yeah, we’ll raise the payroll a bit to accomodate THAT guy.” So in that regards, we don’t know HOW much this affects us budget-wise. We actually have NO idea what our budget is, even, at this point. We’ve got our new Root ownership and the new TV revenue league-wide, there’s no reason to NOT believe we could be at $110-$115 million. While there’s every reason to believe if we’re NOT raising it significantly like that than Cano makes no sense to acquire.

    So to attempt to view the Cano signing before the END of the offseason, when we can size up the other acquisitions, and see how much is invested overall, seems premature.

    I’m only viewing potential– and our potential just widened/expanded hugely.

    Go get some more, Z! A winter meetings for the ages would be fun.

  3. PackBob on December 7th, 2013 2:09 pm

    The Mariners tried to do the same “thing” in 2012 and 2013. At least they got the best of the three.

    The consensus with which I agree is that whether this becomes a good team now depends on what the Mariners do after landing Cano. The intent seems to have been to land a centerpiece player and it may bode well that when that failed in 2012 and 2013 the Mariners didn’t go ahead anyway and start adding side dishes without knowing what the main course was.

    But I hope they don’t feel like 2014 is it, the time to go all in, and trade away future gain for rental help. They can continue to improve the talent level through free agency instead and take 2014 to make some final determinations on all their young players.

    Price would upgrade the team in a hurry, but even with another couple additions it’s questionable how far the team can go because it still depends on the young players. I’d rather gamble on Walker’s potential for 6 years of service rather than Price’s 2 years when the M’s may not have quite enough fire power anyway.

    The young guys are still the key because their low combined cost is what allows the Mariners to go out and get a Cano and others and not bust the budget.

  4. Westside guy on December 7th, 2013 2:13 pm

    Well said, Marc.

    Re: comment #1 – I was going to make a snarky retort that mentions reading comprehension and grasping nuance, but I will (mostly) refrain.

  5. MrZDevotee on December 7th, 2013 3:14 pm

    It’s a weekend, he’s a Coug… Probably nipping at the bottle a little early today. *laugh*

    Kidding Coug. It’s safe to assume that Dave’s tolerance for bad moves is just lower than the average person’s. That’s not right or wrong, just is. He’s a logical fellow (assuming here) so if something doesn’t make sense at its core level he doesn’t see the point of tolerating it for the sake of being nice. Especially if the goal of the team is progress.

    Once you’re comfortable with his approach, it’s actually kinda refreshing (and entertaining when someone else is the focus). I think the side benefit for all of us is it keeps this site free of most of the shallow, superficial internet dialog that bogs down most blogs that allow comments.

    Plus, the original intent of the site was to create a safe place for a particular way of viewing the game, when that way was viewed as threatening and in need of scolding by the status quo “jock” culture that used to reign supreme. The intent was never to be a site that encourages debate between whether statistical analysis, and modern measuring ideas are better or worse than the old school eyeball/gut/hunch/guru “dingers! dingers! dingers!” method.

    But since most folks for some odd reason embrace the internet as a place to have “I’m right, you’re wrong” debates, people don’t always care what the intent of the site actually is.

    And the site became more generally populated, I think, because of the attraction of its levelheaded game threads, that are sort of they’re own thing here.

    So, yeah, with all that blowhard overtalking I just did, just trying to say, uh… Well, Westy almost said it. So, that’s good enough.

  6. MissouriMariner on December 7th, 2013 6:57 pm

    I have always been a Cano fan although the contract blows my mind. What really scares me is what comes next, I don’t trust this FO to not trade away the future. I see no way that this team is good enough to go for it this year. That is the only scenario that would make sense to trade the young talent. The M’s are not that close…

  7. Liam on December 7th, 2013 7:31 pm

    What I keep thinking about is how no one in the front office is even going to be here for the downside of this deal. Chuck Armstrong is already on his way out, Howard Lincoln is 73 and Jack Zduriencik probably won’t make it to 10 years as GM, let alone 15.

  8. Westside guy on December 7th, 2013 8:14 pm

    Holy crap. Speaking of needing to change…

    Remember when Dave talked about Blengino being scapegoated, and how – in response to a critical commenter – Dave stated “I know some things you don’t know”? Well he was spot on, and now it’s out in the open:

  9. californiamariner on December 7th, 2013 8:15 pm

    Must read article from Baker on the dysfunction that is the Mariners front office.

  10. Westside guy on December 7th, 2013 8:16 pm

    Hahaha great minds think alike, CM!

  11. californiamariner on December 7th, 2013 8:16 pm

    And Westside already posted it! I couldn’t believe some of the stuff I was reading in that article.

  12. Westside guy on December 7th, 2013 8:19 pm

    I suspect GB could not have written that as the Mariners beat reporter. 😉

  13. killeverything on December 7th, 2013 8:23 pm

    I was coming here to post that article ( Westside beat us all ) and get opinions on it. It dampens the glow from the Cano signing considerably.

  14. Westside guy on December 7th, 2013 8:26 pm

    It certainly gives more credence to the people that like to blame HowChuck for everything. I’ve always said we can’t know whether the leadership meddles, nor how much… but it appears I was wrong.

  15. californiamariner on December 7th, 2013 8:34 pm

    This certainly has to be what Dave has hinted about in the past and it makes things make a lot more sense. I understand why Dave has been so pessimistic lately about the state of the team. There’s certainly a lot of stuff in that article that makes the Mariners front office look hopeless. If Lincoln is really this big of a problem then I don’t know how things are going to get better. It’s very troubling to hear that Lincoln is trying to run the show because no matter who comes in as gm they will have the same problem overlooking them. Those that have been blaming Lincoln and Armstrong certainly don’t seem so far off anymore.

  16. killeverything on December 7th, 2013 8:35 pm

    I’m terrified of Jack Z. According to the article that man has the statistical IQ of Joe Morgan, something ( from the results on the field and boneheaded trades ) I’ve long since suspected.

  17. californiamariner on December 7th, 2013 8:37 pm

    Killeverything, exactly. It all makes so much sense when you look at the roster moves of the past couple years.

  18. naviomelo on December 7th, 2013 10:48 pm

    Well, after reading that article, everything seems to make sense now.

  19. dantheman on December 8th, 2013 1:10 pm

    “I’m terrified of Jack Z. According to the article that man has the statistical IQ of Joe Morgan, something ( from the results on the field and boneheaded trades ) I’ve long since suspected.”

    Not a lot of people here suspected it (and you’ve insulted Joe Morgan). Over and over Jack has been defended because of the mess Bavasi left. Maybe it wasn’t Bavasi at all. The Chuck and Howard Show has been an utter disaster. No one who has followed this team since the Argyros years should be the least bit surprised. Read Dick Williams’ book about the meddling Mr. Armstrong. No surprise that Chuck and Howard think they should dictate bunting drills. Or that Chuck would try to scare his own manager by suggesting that he was sent downstairs by Howard to tell him to….win. He’s the worst thing that ever happened to Seattle baseball. Good riddance. It’s great somebody has finally pulled back the curtain on these clowns.

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