Hart, Morrison, And Something For Everyone

December 11, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 50 Comments 

Jeff Passan just put something up at Yahoo! about two agents fighting in the winter meetings resort parking lot. As Passan says, it’s maybe the most interesting thing to happen at the meetings so far, as the biggest move was a three-way trade in which the best player is Mark Trumbo. With the pitching market on hold and so many moves having already been made over the previous few weeks, the meetings have been relatively slow, but then Mariners fans have at least had some material to talk about Wednesday. Earlier today, the Mariners signed Corey Hart to a one-year contract, and then barely minutes later it came out that the Mariners also traded Carter Capps for Logan Morrison. In the time it takes to make a sandwich, the Mariners picked up two significant players, and now we’re that much closer to seeing what the overall picture will look like next March.

The pair of moves is so interesting specifically because it’s so interesting. They might as well be grouped together, since they practically happened together, and what’s notable is that there’s fodder for the most ardent front-office supporters, the most stubborn, outspoken critics, and everybody in between. Truly, there’s something for everyone, no matter where they might be found along the organizational opinion spectrum.

We can take the super positive angle first. Hart’s a great get on a low-risk, one-year deal with a $6-million base. He missed literally the entire season, but he’s not old and over the previous three years he was one of the more productive hitters in all of baseball, with a hell of a lot of power. He’s a good bet to out-hit Nelson Cruz in 2014, and he might even stand a decent chance of out-hitting Shin-Soo Choo, and both those free agents are looking to really cash in. Hart can’t hurt very much, but he can deliver very much, and he makes the Mariners better without taking anything away from the future. What’s not to like?

And then there’s Morrison, who the Mariners got for a reliever with nothing to throw to left-handed hitters. A reliever with diminished velocity and unstable mechanics. A non-elite reliever. Morrison isn’t that far removed from being an upper-level offensive prospect, and while he was on the market, smart teams like the Rays and Pirates checked in to see what they could make happen. He’s supposed to be healthy now, after fighting some knee issues, and he has a good approach, and he’s basically an upside get. He’s under team control for three years, should he take a step forward. He’s 26 years old and his OBP in the upper minors was north of .400. Morrison has potential. Capps has potential, too, but better to have the bat with potential than the reliever with potential, most of the time.

And having Hart and Morrison adds flexibility because now the Mariners can deal Justin Smoak. Or, they can turn around and deal Morrison if they want, maybe as part of a bigger package. There are still teams out there looking for cheap first basemen, and suddenly the Mariners have cheap depth. There’s nothing wrong with having options.

Now we can shift to the negative outlook. You know who Corey Hart is a lot like? Michael Morse. You know who Logan Morrison is a lot like? Justin Smoak. You know who haven’t worked out for the Mariners recently? Michael Morse and Justin Smoak. You can only complain about Hart so much, since he’s affordable and he required nothing in the way of a long-term commitment, but it’s easy to interpret Hart as just the latest in a series of intended dinger-providers. Who knows what he can do after a year off, and reports say the Mariners are giving Hart a base salary that’s about the same as where the Brewers’ offer would’ve topped out. Hart seems like a bargain, but the market allowed him to be a bargain, which might mean he’s not a real bargain at all. And he’s not even the most troubling half of this pair of moves.

Over parts of four seasons, Logan Morrison has posted a career WAR of 1. That’s according to FanGraphs. According to Baseball-Reference, he’s posted a career WAR of -0.1, and that’s while being an above-average hitter. The year Baseball America called Morrison baseball’s #20 prospect, it called Smoak baseball’s #13 prospect. It called Dustin Ackley baseball’s #11 prospect. It called Jesus Montero baseball’s #4 prospect. The Mariners have seen enough of these guys threaten to bust, and Morrison isn’t automatically better just because we haven’t been the ones watching him struggle. His offense has taken a step back, and he doesn’t seem to be an adequate defender anywhere.

And the Mariners say they intend to keep Smoak where he is. Of course, they also say they will turn Nick Franklin into a utility player, so, you know, whatever, this is just how things go this time of year. But the Mariners have been Smoak supporters for a while, and if they do keep him in place like they say, that means Hart and Morrison will split time in left field and at DH. The way it’s been explained to me is that both players will get about half the time at both positions. That means the Mariners would have two left fielders coming off three major knee surgeries.

Morrison might well be a replacement-level player. Hart wasn’t an asset in the outfield even before he busted both his knees. This would be an example of the Mariners both getting suckered again by Smoak-like potential, and ignoring the importance of defense as they did with Morse and Raul Ibanez. If anything the Mariners needed one fewer Smoak, not a second one, playing a defensive position he shouldn’t play. Maybe if Morrison and Smoak were in a job share, you could wait to see if one stepped up. Maybe if the Mariners weren’t in position of needing to win soon, you could wait to see if one stepped up. But Morrison doesn’t look like a great gamble as a half-time outfielder, and Smoak and Hart are forcing him into that position. Though he has the prospect background, that’s getting further and further away, and he’s got 1500 big-league plate appearances suggesting what he is.

If you’ve got material for the most positive people, and if you’ve got material for the most negative people, you’ve got material for everybody else somewhere in the middle. So this has been a pretty fascinating day, with no real consensus and with a lot of potential implications. Myself, I like the Hart move quite a bit, even if he is just another dinger hitter. Dinger hitters can be good! Especially when they don’t cost you much. In isolation, I’d like the Morrison move, too, because I’ll take potential for a young reliever. But it’s a strange fit for this team if this team really is going to hang on to both Morrison and Smoak going forward. Neither have hit very well, and the guy expected to play in the outfield isn’t real good at that. It’s bad for the defense, and how high is Morrison’s upside, really? Is this the best way to maximize the chances of winning in the next few years, before Cano turns the wrong corner?

This does open the door to in-season flexibility, in that, if Smoak struggles, the team could try Morrison at first and someone else in the outfield. In a sense, they have two simultaneous chances to find a young first baseman. It’s just that one of them won’t be playing first base out of the gate, if things stay as they are. That’s weird, and together, these moves do suggest the Mariners still highly value power and don’t highly value defense. That’s about how we thought of them, so it’s no surprise we are where we are now. But we could still definitely be worse off, if the Mariners, say, caved to Nelson Cruz’s lofty demands. The front-office philosophy led to a couple interesting players, and neither is expensive. It could be a lot worse. Things are sort of odd now, but the offseason’s far from over, and for the Mariners I think today was more good news than bad. A few more days like that and we could really have something.

Mariners Swap Carter Capps for Logan Morrison

December 11, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 39 Comments 

If there was one Mariner I was pretty sure wasn’t going to be on the team next year, it was Carter Capps. The Mariners don’t like pitchers who give up home runs. Pretty much every HR prone pitcher they’ve had in the last few years has been dumped at first opportunity. They love hitting home runs, and they hate giving them up. Carter Capps gave up a lot of home runs, so he’s gone.

In return, they got Logan Morrison. Logan Morrison is Justin Smoak. I wrote up my thoughts on Morrison and his fit in Seattle over at FanGraphs. I’m okay with acquiring him if Smoak is going away, or if Morrison was acquired to flip in another move, but I hope he’s not being brought in to play the outfield. That would be bad. That would be more of the same bad as last year. Having 1B/DH types is fine if you play them at 1B/DH. No more 1B/DHs in the outfield please.

Mariners Sign Corey Hart; I Say Good Things About Mariners

December 11, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 29 Comments 

In my off-season plan post from a few months back, I suggested that the Mariners sign Corey Hart to a one year contract to DH and play some first base. In explaining the proposal, I wrote this:

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.

Hart is, in some ways, not that different of a gamble that Michael Morse was a year ago. He’s the same type of hitter as Morse, or often-mentioned target Nelson Cruz, or the recently traded Mark Trumbo; an aggressive power hitter with mediocre contact rates who doesn’t really work the count. These guys are all pretty similar in terms of offensive value. To wit, here are their numbers from the last three seasons.

Mark Trumbo 1837 6% 25% 0.221 0.287 0.251 0.300 0.473 0.331 112
Corey Hart 1173 8% 23% 0.231 0.320 0.277 0.344 0.509 0.367 130
Nelson Cruz 1611 7% 23% 0.226 0.295 0.263 0.319 0.489 0.348 114
Michael Morse 1342 5% 23% 0.205 0.320 0.277 0.325 0.481 0.348 119

These guys are all basically the same kind of hitter, with the variation between them mostly being about health and defensive ability. Trumbo is probably the most valuable of the group, since he’s the youngest and healthiest, but he also just cost the Diamondbacks two pretty valuable trade chips. Cruz is asking for $75 million. The Mariners weren’t going back to the Michael Morse well after seeing that fail last year, but they basically found another version of the same skillset, which is clearly a skillset they like a lot.

This time, though, they’re getting this skillset for a low cost. Because of Hart’s health issues, he’s coming on a one year deal. While we don’t know the terms yet, a base salary around $10 million is probably a good bet, given that the Mariners had to outbid the Brewers and Hart suggested he’d take a discount to stay there. Maybe it will be $8 million or $12 million, but it is likely to be something in that range. Essentially, it’s like taking on Morse’s contract last winter, only doing so without giving up anything in return.

And, hopefully, Hart won’t be forced into the outfield like Morse was. The Mariners should see him as a DH, or potentially a first baseman if Justin Smoak doesn’t hit again. He wasn’t a terrible defender before the knees gave out, but he was never an asset with the glove and now he’s coming off surgeries on both knees. He turns 32 in March. It’s time to stop asking him to run around. Just let him hit, and if he feels really good, let him play some first base.

If the M’s use him that way, Hart could be a reasonably productive DH, probably matching what the team got from Kendrys Morales last year. Rather than overpaying to re-sign Morales, they get a right-handed power hitter that comes with no long term attachment. This is a much better move than re-signing Morales; the key, though, is to not also re-sign Morales and try to fit them both onto the same team by sticking Hart in the outfield. They tried that last year. They should not try that again.

For now, though, nice job by the front office to identify perhaps the best value source of the most overpriced asset on the market this winter. This is better than trading for Matt Kemp or Mark Trumbo, signing Nelson Cruz, or re-signing Kendrys Morales. There’s a good chance that Hart can give the Mariners most of what those guys would have, just without any of the long term costs of acquiring the bigger name.

David Price Doesn’t Want To Play For The Mariners

December 11, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 20 Comments 

A few things, right away. Three of them. One, David Price doesn’t have a no-trade clause. He has no say in where he gets dealt, in the event that he does actually get dealt. Two, David Price on a long-term contract doesn’t necessarily provide that much in the way of surplus value. That is, Price will end up paid market rate, meaning he’d be ultra expensive for a long time. Three, trade negotiations don’t have to involve an extension, just like how the James Shields trade didn’t involve an extension. Trade for Price and you’re dealing for two years of arbitration eligibility. Those are details. This is the report to which the details belong:

That seems pretty clear. There are teams for which Price would like to play, and those are the teams with which he’d be willing to talk something long-term. The Mariners aren’t one of them, meaning any Price trade would presumably mean two years and subsequent compensation. Which is what we assumed, but anyway. Of course, Price could always change his mind. Maybe, if he played for the Mariners, he’d fall in love with Seattle, like so many people do. Maybe the Mariners will stop being a bad baseball team, and then they’ll be more appealing as a destination. But right now Price isn’t jazzed about Seattle, and that doesn’t make a trade to the M’s more likely. The Mariners probably don’t want to make a big deal of trading for a guy who’d rather be somewhere else.

Not that this trade has looked likely for a little while. Word is the Mariners don’t want to give up Taijuan Walker or James Paxton, and it wouldn’t make any sense for them to move Brad Miller or Mike Zunino. Nick Franklin is the expendable guy, and as talented as he is, the Rays probably have their hearts set on a stronger return. Maybe they’ll get it from Arizona or Los Angeles. I think you could make a good argument that Franklin could be the centerpiece of a fair deal, but I think the Mariners are looking in other places. I think they might actually realize Price isn’t the best thing they can do. I know, I’m a dreamer.

Incidentally, one notes one of the things the Robinson Cano acquisition was supposed to do is make people more likely to want to play for Seattle. Hasn’t worked on Price. Apparently didn’t work on a now-signed free agent. Cano was never going to be a magic solution, and any effect would be small, and an effect probably does exist, but really it has to be about winning. To be appealing, to players and to fans, the Mariners have to win. Cano should help toward that end, at least for some years, but it’ll be a team effort so to speak. You don’t become a destination overnight.

Anyway, to sum up: David Price thinks he’s better than this. For all I know he’s probably right. Doesn’t mean a trade can’t happen, and doesn’t mean Price couldn’t come to love the area and the organization, but whatever the odds were of a deal before, now they have to be just a little bit lower. You want players who want you. Or who at least want your money.

Taijuan Walker Will Not Be Traded Unless He Is

December 9, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 48 Comments 

Robinson Cano is amazing! He might not be amazing in ten years, or five years, or even two years, and for all I know he’ll be a big pile of crap in 2014, but that probably won’t be the case because he’s been one of the best players in baseball for a long time and he’s still not old. Cano is amazing and the Mariners have him, and in the short-term that’s just terrific. To be honest with all you guys, though, I haven’t been able to enjoy the rush to the fullest extent, because getting Cano signals that the Mariners are going for it. The Mariners going for it signals that they’ll be sacrificing more long-term for the immediate, and I’m terrified of a Taijuan Walker trade. Getting Cano makes me afraid about Walker, so this from earlier is some welcome reassurance.

Greg Johns:

“I don’t have intentions of trading Taijuan,” Zduriencik said. “You listen to any opportunities that present themselves and you go into discussions with a lot of people. And his name will come up. Why wouldn’t it? As do a lot of our guys, quite frankly. But Taijuan is high profile because he’s rated our top prospect. So if I was a club out there, why wouldn’t I ask about Taijuan Walker? That would be a smart thing to do because you never know where it’s going to take you. But I have no intentions of trading him.”

Also, from Bill Shaikin:

Jack Z on Walker, rumored as part of Price trade package: “I expect Taijuan to be with us.”

That’s a pretty direct response to the recent rumors about Walker and David Price. Now, this is Zduriencik from last December 3:

“I don’t have a desire to trade these guys,” Zduriencik said. “I’d be tickled pink to continue this plan and let them all become big leaguers for us and see what they’re going to be. But you can’t shut the door on an opportunity to improve your club for the short term and the long term.”

From a week and a half later:

“And I think what you find is, everybody’s seeking pitchers. That is a real strength of ours. So there’s this balancing act that you put this thing together, it’s starting to look like it’s really going to be something good going forward, and then you get these phone calls that offer you a player that has one or two years of control, and he typically is a high-money player from another ballclub.

“And it’s tempting because you know you can make your big-league ballclub better right now. But the discipline is to say ‘no, we are going to continue along this road.'”

The natural and obvious counterpoint is that Zduriencik did indeed try to trade Walker, to the Diamondbacks, in a package for Justin Upton. But there are two things to remember. For one, Walker’s stock is considerably higher now than it was a winter ago. At that point he was coming off a near-five ERA in double-A. Now he’s got experience in the majors. For two, Upton would’ve come with three years of team control. That’s only one more year than Price’s two, but another way of saying that is 50% more than Price’s two, and Upton came with lower locked-in salaries. So it’s not the same thing.

Based on Zduriencik’s words from a year ago, he wouldn’t move Walker for a high-money player with two years of control, which describes Price. The concern is that the situation is obviously different, with the Mariners now targeting a shorter-term window. I don’t think Jack would say they’re abandoning the rebuilding plan, but they’re certainly looking to win right away. Changing priorities can mean changing ideas and strategies, but it’s still comforting to have Zduriencik go on record as saying he doesn’t want to move his top prospect. The pattern of behavior still suggests he wouldn’t do that for a one- or two-year player.

I can’t help but be reminded of two nuggets from recent history. In 2007, the Tigers declared Cameron Maybin untouchable, and then almost immediately included him in a package for Miguel Cabrera. More recently, Joe Maddon asserted that Matt Garza would pitch for the Rays a little before he was dealt to not-the-Rays. Organizations have changed their minds before, and organizations have deliberately misled the public before, and the point is that nothing is ever final. The Mariners could trade Taijuan Walker tonight. Maybe something will happen that causes them to change their mind. Maybe they don’t actually need to have their mind changed. Taijuan Walker won’t be traded, unless.

Thus the David Price rumors can’t be written off entirely. But, Jack could’ve said something along the lines of, you’re always listening, you’re willing to do anything to improve the ballclub. Just the other week he said something like that when it came to stretching the budget. Shortly thereafter, the team dropped a quarter of a billion dollars on Robinson Cano. What Jack chose to do was say he has no intentions of trading Taijuan Walker. That’s the right plan, at least until you start talking about an elite, cost-controlled talent coming back. For two years of almost anyone, Walker shouldn’t go. May Jack, in this instance, be telling the truth, and may he elect to stick with it. I choose not to over-analyze the use of the word “intentions”. Or “expect”. That’s for my own sanity.

And Now We Feel Better

December 9, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 5 Comments 

We feel better because the Mariners didn’t actually literally bid against themselves.

The original author, Evan Grant:

more tongue in cheek, but they had bid 225/9 and nobody came close, then went 10/240

The reality is still that the Mariners were desperate, the reality is still that the Mariners were in a hurry to get this done before the winter meetings, and the reality is still that the Mariners blew away the Yankees, who seem to have had the only other offer, but thanks to the clarification we know the Mariners weren’t just bumbling clueless idiots. Now consider how ready you were to believe that they were bumbling clueless idiots.

Remember that happiness isn’t about good things. It’s about things that positively exceed our expectations. The clarification makes me happier, and that’s a little embarrassing.

Today In Maybe

December 9, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 18 Comments 

I have no idea if this is actually true. If it is, or if it isn’t, I have no idea how often this kind of thing might happen to other organizations in other situations. But I think we can all agree that a big part of our fun with the baseball experience is laughing at the very team we hold most dear, so with that particular thought in mind, here’s Evan Grant:

By mid-day Friday, Seattle had heard that some team bid nine years and $225 million for Robinson Cano, so the Mariners upped their bid to $240 million and 10 years before apparently realizing the initial bid had come from themselves, too.

Zduriencik: You drive a hard bargain, Kingston.
Zduriencik: But I beat you in the end.
Kingston: haha
Zduriencik: haha
Cano’s agent: haha
Lincoln: why is this funny

Report On The Wreckage From A Bomb Long Exploded

December 8, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 72 Comments 

I’ve seen comments from a number of people that they can’t wait to read what certain writers have to say about the Geoff Baker piece. Overnight, Seattle Mariners organizational dysfunction has become national news, with the obligatory Deadspin link and everything. From those most closely linked to the team, though, the response has been…not non-existent, but perhaps underwhelming, relative to what outsiders might expect. Everyone has acknowledged the piece and talked at least a little about it. It’s well-sourced, well-crafted, and extremely thorough. It’s a big deal. But we simply didn’t learn a whole lot. Those paying attention have hardly been caught by surprise.

Last night, I said that Geoff Baker dropped the bomb. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’d like to back away from that phrasing. Nothing has been destroyed by Baker’s outstanding article. Rather, the article details what was destroyed many moons back, gradually over the course of months and years. For many, most certainly, the information is eye-opening, but from here, what’s new are some of the details and anecdotes. What’s not new is the substance of the message. The organization’s not in great shape, in so many ways lacking the right kind of leadership.

Don’t focus too much on the timing of the article, right on the heels of the Robinson Cano acquisition. This article has been in the works for longer than the Mariners and Cano were negotiating, and so in that sense the timing is a coincidence. It benefits the Times that people are paying attention to the Mariners again all of a sudden, but this was getting published regardless once Baker had completed all the legwork. Things like this take a while. Baker, for as much as we’ve picked on him, is a qualified investigative journalist who did his job to address what had become a hurricane of whispers. This was all going to come out.

Similarly, don’t over-analyze the timing of the Cano signing. The Mariners knew that this article was coming, but they didn’t drop a quarter of a billion dollars just to make people feel better about the state of things. The Mariners aren’t changing their plans in response to this. Teams don’t respond to the media like that, and the surest cure is winning. They’re trying to win, as soon as they can. Also, don’t over-analyze the fact that the Mariners declined to issue much in the way of a rebuttal. They’re not automatically conceding that everything’s true. They just don’t see any point in getting caught up in a war of words. What could they possibly gain? There’s nothing, really, to be done when a piece like this is hitting the papers. They, rightly, are electing to focus on the baseball.

A perfectly valid observation is that the bulk of the sourcing comes from ex-employees. Many of them were forced out or marginalized against their will. So there’s a bit of a revenge angle, and there’s certain bias, and, probably, some details have been exaggerated. But it’s not like Baker talked to one or two people. Read the article again. It’s not that we’re getting one side out of two; it’s that we’re getting X out of X + 1 or X + 2, where X is a pretty big number as these things go. Lots of people have bad things to say about how this organization is run.

And it’s not limited to ex-employees. Very little of this should come as a shock to the industry, because, people know, or have at least had a sense. There’s long been talk that the Mariners are mismanaged, that Jack Zduriencik is awful to work for, that the GM is in over his head, that the team is run by a small number of big egos. Dave has remarked that Zduriencik has burned an awful lot of bridges, and while that doesn’t automatically make him a disaster, it suggests he doesn’t quite have the people skills you usually look for in a GM candidate. They said Paul DePodesta was under-qualified because he didn’t know how to lead. Zduriencik is an opposite sort of general manager, but he’s got a very similar flaw, and things have gotten worse over time.

It’s not like Blengino was the team’s only analyst. A specific angle is that Blengino was pushed out. A more general angle is that the organization shifted its philosophies away from what we might refer to as the cutting edge. At least, away from the contemporary. That much has been pretty obvious, and while Blengino presumably exaggerated the extent to which Zduriencik is personally ignorant, this is not a forward-thinking team. It does have a staff of analysts, paid little, making little difference. The call is always made by Jack, and Jack isn’t how he was presented toward the beginning.

Regarding some of the alleged personality traits, do remember that people don’t get to elevated positions of power in America by being sweethearts. A lot of well-to-do people can come off like dicks because a lot of the time you have to be a dick to become a well-to-do person. Baseball executives are going to have egos just like how baseball players are going to have egos. They have to think primarily about themselves, and all their lives they’ve been successful. There’s a limit beyond which an ego is unacceptable, if it’s affecting the way things work, but lots of people running things in baseball could be portrayed poorly.

And that’s a critical point — we’ve seen this article written about the Mariners. How do other organizations work? This makes the Mariners appear not unlike the Marlins in a way, but of course there have been ugly incidents everywhere. Overall, you have to think the Mariners are below average, but we don’t know where the average is. There was an awful lot of stuff written about the dysfunctional Red Sox there for a bit, and now look at them. They were a model franchise, then they sucked, now they’re almost a model franchise again. I don’t know if things there are righted behind the scenes, but on stage, the team just won the championship.

All this is important because it speaks to how the Mariners are run. We think it could mean a lot going forward, with regard to how the rosters shape up. The Mariners, today, are on the brink of signing Robinson Cano, and there is plenty of young talent, and winning right away isn’t impossible. Ultimately, what matters is just the team, and if the Mariners are good it doesn’t matter if Howard Lincoln is baseball-ignorant. It didn’t really matter when the Mariners were awesome between 2000 and 2003. This reads ugly because the Mariners have been ugly, and it suggests the Mariners are destined to make some more ugly decisions, but the bottom line is that it’s about the roster, as far as any of us are concerned. If they target good players, or if they get lucky, then they win, and who cares about a soap opera? 95 wins and a berth in the playoffs makes all this a hell of a lot easier to shrug off. Egos being egos.

But what are the chances of achieving those 95 wins? What are the chances of achieving sustainable success, like Jack always used to talk about? Maybe he truly, deeply believed in his old words, and maybe the people above him did, too, but they all changed course, perhaps irreversibly. Maybe Jack was influenced by Armstrong and Lincoln, and that’s how he wound up butting heads with Eric Wedge, but Jack is what he is now and the root cause is not important. The rebuild, as it was, is over, perhaps prematurely. Now they’ve got a whole new blueprint.

For all of us, this was a difficult article to read. It was powerful and worrying and it’s come at almost the worst possible time. It was difficult for me not because it’s going to change anything. The Mariners didn’t suddenly develop worse leadership. They’re not going to suddenly have a more negative perception around baseball. It was difficult for me because it supports the worst feelings I’ve had about the organization for what feels like a handful of years. The message is that the way things are is about as bad as people have feared. People around the Mariners already knew that. People elsewhere in baseball already knew that. Now the people in Seattle can know that. The team’s going to bring in a lot of new talent, but are these the people we trust to make that happen in a responsible, intelligent way? For a while, we’ve been cynical. Now it’s been laid out for us why we’re not wrong.

Some time ago, the Mariners exploded. They’ve since been in the process of reconstruction, but the architects might be drunk. The hope we get to cling to is that the mission’s not impossible. For the Seattle Mariners, winning is not impossible. That’s the very most that I’m honestly able to say.

One Minor Good Thing, One Major Bad Thing

December 7, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 60 Comments 

Initially I was just planning to do a drive-by post about Robinson Cano and his having played in a bandbox in New York for the last five years. In these situations, there’s always some concern that the hitter in question was just a product of his environment, but with Cano, there’s little reason for worry, which is good. However, by the official Mariners constitution, we’re not allowed to have sustainable good feelings about them or their players or their organization for more than several minutes at a time, so while I was in the process of looking some numbers up, Geoff Baker dropped the bomb.

First, whatever, some Cano splits. New Yankee Stadium opened in 2009, so Cano called that ballpark home for five years. Cano’s a left-handed hitter, and that stadium is laughably generous with left-handed hitters. That would be a concern, but it turns out the concern is unwarranted. The last five years, 155 players have batted at least 1,000 times at home. By wRC+, Cano ranks 30th, at 137. He’s tied with Adrian Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki.

The last five years, 166 players have batted at least 1,000 times on the road. By wRC+, Cano ranks seventh, at 140. He’s between Joe Mauer and Mike Napoli. Cano, at home, has hit more dingers, but on the road, he’s hit more doubles, and when you go through all the calculations there’s no evidence that Cano enjoyed a particular home-field advantage. With Seattle, he probably won’t be so much of a power hitter, but he’ll still be a highly productive hitter, at least at first. Unless, you know, there’s some disaster. We seem to have a lot of disasters.

And here, you can read the disastrous article about how the Mariners have been run under Jack Zduriencik and the people above him. It’s way too thorough for me to try to attempt a one-paragraph summary, so just go read it although I might not read it over an otherwise potentially pleasant weekend. You’ll begin to understand why the Mariners are going for it right now, even though they didn’t come into the winter with a strong enough foundation. You’ll begin to understand an awful lot, and while we’ve written about some of these things before, there are more details and there’s significance in confirmations and material being made public. Not all of this is surprising, and maybe very little of it is surprising, but it’s awful and to our knowledge it isn’t changing. Chuck Armstrong is going away, but that might not meaningfully change anything at all, and, well, this is our ship. It’s up to you to determine whether or not it’s sinking, but the water’s freezing cold and there aren’t any lifeboats.

Robinson Cano is a Mariner, and he’s been excellent away from Yankee Stadium. Also, he’s one of baseball’s premier hitters when it comes to spraying the ball around all fields. Didn’t mention that part before. Cano’s pretty great. The overall situation controlling the franchise is a wreck and the people pulling the strings have very little understanding of player value and evaluation. Lots of people like to drink on Saturday night. Maybe have yourself an extra.

Mariners Needed to Change; Mariners In Process of Changing

December 7, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 19 Comments 

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.

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