Game 109, New-Fangled Mariners at Basically-The-Same Orioles
Roenis Elias vs. Wei-Yin Chen, 4:05pm
Sooooo, deadlines, huh? Yesterday’s game thread talked about the small move the M’s made on Deadline day, but because of life and obligations, I wasn’t able to update it with the biggest news in M’s land: the M’s acquiring CF Austin Jackson for IF Nick Franklin as part of the three-team trade sending David Price to Detroit. That get s a non-ironic “wow.” If you’ve read this site at all, you know I haven’t been all that excited about GM Jack Zduriencik’s trades, and his decision-making in general. So let’s get this out of the way: I think this was a great move, and one that had to be made.
The Mariners rank dead last in baseball in production from the CF spot. The combination of Almonte/Jones/Chavez is essentially replacement level. The M’s are in the wild card hunt turning the top of their line-up over to replacement level OFs, which is both aggravating and a clear opportunity. Of course, it’s easy for everyone on twitter to just say, “Stop playing awful CFs and play someone not-awful!” as if Tacoma was stocked with decent, MLB-ready CFs. Remember, Jones swapped places with Almonte in May. Until yesterday, if you wanted to pull the plug on Jones-as-starting-CF, you were either giving the spot to Endy Chavez full time, or you were un-doing that swap and re-installing Abe Almonte again. Sure, there’s Xavier Avery, and yes, Chris Denorfia could play CF in a pinch, and when he’s back, you could give the position back to Mike Saunders, but there are waaay too many assumptions in all of that. The point is, through a combination of bad luck, developmental hiccups (I think it’s sort of telling that they haven’t tried Ackley in CF again) and injuries, they had a fairly sizable hole, and yesterday, they plugged it.
One of the laments I heard/uttered when Nick Franklin was sent down after struggling with the M’s early in the season was that they’d taken a player with lots of trade value and slowly whittled it away, leaving a player unsure of his role and potential trade partners unsure of his value. Again, it’s easier to say with hindsight, and I’m wary of blaming the front office for a player not hitting in a call-up, but it seemed like the M’s had missed their chance to move Franklin and get actual utility in return. Well, I guess not. Jackson has slumped his way to being a league-average bat, and while his defensive numbers have struggled a bit, the M’s know none of the previous occupants of that role are in contention for the Gold Glove. It came late, but the M’s did indeed use Franklin to get not just an MLB-ready OF, but a guy just two years off of an elite, all-star-level season in CF.
So where do the M’s stand today? According to BP, the move improved the M’s wild card chances by a percentage point or so. Fangraphs adds in the results of yesterday’s games, so the combination of acquiring Jackson AND the M’s late win significantly improving their playoff odds. To be clear: they’re still not good, but no team helped themselves more yesterday than Seattle. Part of what made the deadline so interesting this year is how teams similarly situated at the margin of the WC race took such divergent actions. Cleveland essentially gave up, trading Justin Masterson a day or so ago, and then shipping Asdrubal Cabrera to the Nationals and installing a replacement-level bridge player until Francisco Lindor’s ready next year. Everyone’s talking about how Tampa threw in the towel, and while it’s not *quite* so simple, they had to understand that moving David Price now made it harder for them to make the playoffs in 2014. In any event, one of the interesting thing about that Fangraphs piece was showing how the magnitude of some of these trades pales in comparison to adding/losing a game. That is, yesterday’s games – the games played while everyone flew to new teams and looked to break apartment leases – mattered about as much as acquiring a big star. You can quibble with that, or you can relish the fact that, as Nathan Bishop talked about yesterday at LL, the M’s are suddenly playing really, really meaningful games.
So welcome, Austin Jackson. Welcome, Chris Denorfia. Help us keep up the habit of checking the playoff odds every day. Help us forget about mismanagement, a nearly unbroken string of lost seasons and a flawed roster. Let’s have fun again.
I was going to say I just wrote about Wei-Yin Chen, was sort of true, but then I saw just how little I wrote. In that start seven days ago, Chen shut the M’s out for eight innings – his best outing of the year. That said, Chen’s traditionally been better against lefties (though this year he’s had almost no splits), and while the M’s tried to run most of their RH bats against him the other day, their RH bats are a bit better this time around. The M’s are also facing him in a better environment; Safeco’s the perfect place for a fly-ball lefty who doesn’t walk anyone.
1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, 1B
5: Seager, 3B
6: Denorfia, RF
7: Hart, DH
8: Zunino, C
9: Taylor, SS
That’s six RHBs. It’s not that the M’s haven’t been able to use six RHBs in years and years, it’s just that they’ve had to rely on switch-hitters who either couldn’t hit much at all, or struggled mightily against lefties – guys like Justin Smoak and Nick Franklin. This…this is better, even despite Morales’ continued struggles.
Stefen Romero and James Jones head to Tacoma to make way for Denorfia and Jackson.
Tacoma had its second national TV game yesterday. CBS Sports Network has been televising one upper-minors (essentially PCL and IL) game per week, and I suppose we’ll soon see what they want to do with this model next year. Step it up, and have two or three? Bag it? Or market it along with the draft and the burgeoning interest in MiLB prospects. I had some thoughts about this back in June, before the Rainiers first TV game of the year, and, for unknown reasons, it never posted. So I’ll plagiarize myself and put some thoughts about it below the jump.
If you’re like me, you were only vaguely aware that CBS Sports Network was a thing – a channel, as opposed to what CBS calls itself when it’s showing the Masters or March Madness. It’s actually a stand-alone channel, even if it doesn’t have the profile (yet) of an NBC Sports Network, which has the rights to televise NHL, MLS and some NCAA football games. CBS Sports Network carries Major League Lacrosse games, and they’ve got Arena Football and some bowling events, so, uh…that may be why you hadn’t heard of it. Early this year, though, they decided to try something new – a weekly telecast of a minor league baseball game. So far, the games have featured AAA teams – both the International League and the Pacific Coast League, though they’ve apparently have In early June, they broadcasted a Tacoma vs. Albuquerque game from Cheney Stadium, and yesterday, they televised the Rainiers game at Salt Lake City. CBS has its own broadcast crew, and they move from city to city each week. Thus, friend-of-blog Mike Curto didn’t get any airtime, but he still did the radio and thus provided the audio for MiLB.tv’s broadcast.
CBS is basically trying to gauge and/or build the audience for minor league baseball. It’s an interesting move, and one that I’m a bit surprised hasn’t been tried yet. Sure, if you’re really into watching the minors, you probably already have a MiLB.tv subscription, which of course costs a lot less for the year than a month’s cable bill. But I’d assume most people who HAVE MiLB.tv also have cable, and frankly, some of the MiLB.tv broadcasts are pretty spartan; not sure if New Orleans still has a single fixed camera high atop some forgotten corner of the roof, but it made following the game nearly impossible. In all, I think this is laudable, and I hope it works out for both parties. That said, it also highlights the different approaches you could take to a project like this. CBS seems to be going with AAA teams – those with larger, more modern stadiums, and leagues that feature players that many have heard of – June’s starter Matt Palmer played in the majors for parts of five seasons, going 11-2 with the Angels back in 2009. Last night’s Bees starter was Chris Volstad, who won 12 games for the Marlins years ago. Another approach would be to focus on the top prospects in the country; Kris Bryant versus Andrew Heaney, maybe, or Mookie Betts vs. Aaron Sanchez. The former seems more workable, while the latter might make a bigger impact in an extremely small pool of prospect-crazed dynasty-league fantasy players. And frankly, CBS can always adjust on the fly; if their games involving a big AAA prospect get more ratings, I’d assume they’d take note.
I’ve often wondered why the regional sports networks haven’t picked up at least a few games of the local affiliated team. To be fair, some do- many of you may remember that ROOT Sports televised 5-10 Portland Beavers games several years ago. But it hasn’t been a big part of their schedule, which leads me to think that there hasn’t been much of a market for minor league games, especially given how many would conflict with big league games on those same networks. But have you seen some of the stuff they show instead? You’re telling me a game featuring two Midwest League teams couldn’t out-draw taped fishing shows? Moreover, there’s some evidence that the public’s appetite for baseball at the sub-MLB level is changing, and we’ve just seen a perfect example with the draft. Less than 10 years ago, the MLB draft wasn’t televised, it was essentially just a really long conference call. Most M’s fans, even die-hards, couldn’t name an affiliate outside of Tacoma. Almost no one knew of or cared about the top 10 prospects in another org, and while top 100 prospect lists were around, they were very much a niche product.
Now, this stuff is everywhere. The MLB Network televises the first round of the MLB draft, like a down-market version of the NFL’s. Look elsewhere, you’ll see and hear tons of commentary on the draft, as Keith Law, Jon Mayo, Allan Simpson and others appear to break down the top HS/College players. Not only do networks know there’s a market for this, they understand that many viewers will know who those top players are and have opinions about them. Everything is a risk and a niche market until it suddenly isn’t. The NCAA Basketball tournament wasn’t nationally televised until recently, and the early rounds were on cable up to the early 1990s. The NFL Draft wasn’t anything until ESPN and the growth of fantasy football turned it into the colossus it is today. I’m not suggesting that anything like that is going to happen to minor league baseball, but I am suggesting that the potential audience for this is no longer functionally equivalent to zero.