Justin Smoak, Bad Good Baseball Player

October 28, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 32 Comments 

Looking back, it’s pretty remarkable the Mariners were able to get Justin Smoak in the first place. Cliff Lee had just three months left on his contract, and, granted, he was amazing, but that’s not a lot of time. The Mariners turned him and Mark Lowe into three guys and Smoak, and Smoak at that point was a 23-year-old starting first baseman for a World Series contender. He was very highly regarded, having recently been ranked the No. 13 prospect in baseball, and if the Rangers had issues with him, he probably wouldn’t have been starting for them. The Mariners made a good trade. They didn’t get what they wanted out of it. Neither did the Rangers. Book’s closed now.

With Smoak going to the Blue Jays on waivers, none of those players are left with Seattle or Texas. Yet don’t let it be said that the Mariners didn’t get anything out of the deal. I don’t know what Matt Lawson was, but Josh Lueke was sure as shit a memorable experience. We all formed opinions of Blake Beavan, and we watched Smoak bat almost 2,000 times. What the Mariners gave up were potential memories of Lee and Lowe. What they got in return are memories of different players. Relatively few of them are good memories, but all the memories woven together inform or even make up our fanhood, and we’re all still here. There’s something about this we’ve liked, and Smoak was a part.

We all knew this was coming. One way or another, Smoak wasn’t going to be a part of the 2015 Mariners, not given what he’s done, and not given what Logan Morrison did. I wasn’t sure exactly how Smoak would go away, but this feels appropriate, a quiet press release announcing the news before maybe the final game of the World Series. Smoak wasn’t traded for a player. There’s nothing to continue the transaction tree. Smoak was exchanged for the right to not have to pay him anymore. With the money saved, the Mariners might invest in a different player, or more coffee-cup lids for the office. Some of those newer eco lids have a real problem with steam.

I probably don’t need to review Smoak’s accomplishments in Seattle. I don’t need to include a paragraph or two of statistics. You might already have them memorized, and even if you don’t, specifically, you do, generally. Smoak sometimes was good, but almost never good enough. He reached a few incredible highs, but the same could be said for most underwhelming players, because players fluctuate in two directions around their averages. Smoak achieved the same WAR in a Mariners uniform as Rey Quinones. In Mariners plate appearances, he ranks between Dustin Ackley and Ruppert Jones. He might get passed by Michael Saunders in April; he also very well might not.

If you were to watch Smoak in batting practice, you’d see an awesomely talented hitter. The Mariners know that, and the Mariners have long known that, but there’s raw talent and there’s game talent, and Smoak hasn’t translated enough of the former into the latter. The Mariners have worked with him. Oh, how the Mariners have worked with him, in the minors and in the majors and on the off-days and on the gamedays. No player Smoak’s age is completely out of promise, but the more time that passes without everything clicking, the less likely it becomes that things ever fully click. Last spring, the Mariners believed in Smoak’s odds. They don’t anymore, but the Blue Jays do. They can both be right, I suppose — not every team is identically patient, or identically hopeful.

The numbers declare that Smoak hasn’t been real good. What they suggest is that he’ll continue to not be so good, until he exhausts his opportunities. It’s very possible he’s only one tweak away. That kind of thing wouldn’t show up on someone’s Baseball-Reference page. The Mariners just never found the tweak, and it’s not like Smoak is the only guy out there with promise to do better. Everyone around major-league baseball got to that level for a reason. Everyone is either good or a project. This project, locally, is over.

There’s something that I think is easy to forget — when a player struggles to make adjustments, it isn’t only frustrating for the team and for the fans. It’s also frustrating for the player, and quite possibly the most frustrating for the player, because it’s that player’s career, and he can tell when he’s not doing enough. I’m not sure how Smoak evaluates himself. Maybe he’s all about batting average and RBI. That would be silly, but since he’s at .224 and 234 for his career, it’s not like he’d be missing the point. Justin Smoak understands that he hasn’t been a good-enough baseball player to this point. Earlier in his career, he might’ve embraced the challenge, even been kind of thankful for it. Now it’s not just a front office that might be thinking about wasted potential.

For Smoak, this is probably getting scary. He knows how much work he’s put in to get better, and he knows it hasn’t paid off. He knows he’s running out of time, and he knows he might never have a better opportunity than the one that just officially ended. As long as he was still with the Mariners, at least there were the elements of a familiar routine, but now he’s moving, to a different team in a different city in a different country, and that has to be cold and startling. Smoak has a family, with a very young child, and now the family life is changing, and eventually it might cross Smoak’s mind that this wouldn’t have happened if he’d performed better. Maybe that’s already been on his mind; maybe that’s the only thing on his mind. What do you do when you don’t understand why you’re not good enough? Smoak just spent more than four years with an organization that couldn’t get him going in the right direction. And they gave everything they had.

Overall, this was basically a predictable move, in that Smoak no longer had a role in Seattle. As a Mariner, most of the time, he disappointed, and that was disappointing. I’m hopeful that, going forward, the Mariners will have better baseball players, so they can look like a better baseball team. But while I’ve never personally been in Smoak’s situation, here, I have wondered on many occasions what I’m doing and why I’m not better at it. I’ve had everything changed in the blink of an eye, and after the fact I’ve recognized that everything was preventable, if only I’d done more, and done it well. A failure is just a gut-wrenching learning experience, so Smoak will emerge the better person for this, but I’m not sure he’ll emerge the better ballplayer. I’m not even sure that anyone would notice.

Weird day. On to the next thing, for all of us.

World Series Preview

October 21, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 16 Comments 

Every year. Except last one? Maybe I forgot last one. Mostly every year.


The Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants will face each other in the 2014 World Series, which begins on Tuesday. The Royals have advanced this far by defeating the Oakland Athletics, the Los Angeles Angels, and the Baltimore Orioles. The Giants have advanced this far by defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Washington Nationals, and the St. Louis Cardinals. Both the Royals and Giants managed to defeat their opponents by outplaying them in a short series.


Kansas City:


San Francisco:


Both the Royals and Giants are filled to the brim with possible difference-makers. The 50 listed above will likely be the most important.


Can the San Francisco Giants outscore the Kansas City Royals?

They can.

Can the Kansas City Royals outscore the San Francisco Giants?

They can.

Will one of the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals outscore the other four times?

Most certainly yes!


The Royals will play a maximum of four games at home, while the Giants will play a maximum of three games at home. The home crowds may or may not help. I imagine there are also intangibles somewhere.


Both the Royals and Giants are good teams. The Royals are probably better by a tiny bit. If you re-played the World Series a million times, maybe 50-55% of the time the Royals would be crowned as champions. This World Series will be played once. One of these teams will win four games. The other probably won’t. The outcome will mean everything, and nothing.

Podcast: Stupid Lucky Ugly Royals

October 16, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 17 Comments 

Jeff and I muse a bit on our nature of fan-hood and what we want our of sports. Then lament the Royals for a bit, insult the National League (as always), and finally address the one bit of Mariner news since the last pod.

Podcast with Jeff (@based_ball) and Matthew (@msea1): Direct link! || iTunes link! || RSS/XML link!

Thanks again to those that helped support the show and/or StatCorner in general last week, and in the past, and hopefully in the future. It’s truly appreciated. And thank you to our sponsor for this episode, TodayIFoundOut!

Welcome Back, Annoying Mariners

October 10, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 38 Comments 

Well this is a hell of a lot more like it. The Mariners missed the playoffs by one game. The ALCS currently features the Orioles and the Royals, and I think it’s going to keep on featuring the Orioles and the Royals, and, man, it feels like the Mariners could’ve been there. Somehow, despite coming up just short, we all got to end the season feeling good. I felt good talking about the Mariners last night with Matthew on the podcast. Relative to the rest of the division, we get to feel great! The Mariners missed the playoffs, but they finished all right. The Rangers sucked. The Astros sucked. The A’s lasted two more days and lost in devastating fashion. The Angels got swept by a worse baseball team. We got to feel the best about our favorite team, and now, not two weeks after the last day, well I hope you got to enjoy that little vacation from regular Mariners. Now we’re back to regular Mariners.

Probably, you already know what I’m getting at. We’ve got two separate things that make us all feel quite a bit worse. For one, Jack Zduriencik and Lloyd McClendon were openly critical of Michael Saunders’ preparation in their year-end media session. Which might’ve been okay, if Saunders knew anything about it beforehand, which he did not. So, he heard that stuff for the first time when we heard that stuff for the first time, and that says bad things about organizational communication.

And also, hello there! It’s Bob Dutton! Wrote Dutton:

The Mariners had a deal in place last winter with Cruz, then a free agent, for roughly $7.5 million in 2014 with a club option of about $9 million for 2015…before ownership backed away.

Many of us spent all offseason dreading the inevitable big contract the Mariners would give Cruz. When Cruz finally signed for his modest terms in Baltimore, the consensus reaction was, actually, that’s not bad at all. The Mariners had Cruz for similar terms, despite all the rumors that Cruz didn’t want to play in Seattle, and then nevermind what Cruz actually went on to do in 2014 as an Oriole — the Mariners’ baseball people made a roster decision, and they were overruled on that decision by the Mariners’ non-baseball people. That happens sometimes, but you don’t expect to see it happen on a seven-figure, one-year contract for the exact kind of player the Mariners were in the market for.

So we get to be frustrated with the front office, and we get to be frustrated with the people above the front office. Everything that happened last season happened last season, and everything that made us feel pretty great about the Mariners is still perfectly valid, but it’s a little like eating a doughnut and then researching the nutritional content of a doughnut. In the end, you still enjoyed the doughnut, but you feel worse about the experience in the aftermath because the doughnut is basically trying to kill you.

It’s totally reasonable for the Mariners to be frustrated with Saunders’ fragility. Saunders is more frustrated than anyone with his own injury record. I mean, he wants to be playing all the time, and McClendon said some good things about his talent level. But the problem with what happened is obvious — you express these concerns via private communication. The Mariners employ Saunders, and they have every right to tell him what they think he should do in order to remain on the field, but as much as the media is a part of the business, it’s not a part of that side of the business. Feelings now are hurt for no reason. Don’t give me any of that motivational bullshit. Saunders isn’t Jesus Montero. Having this aired to the press serves nobody’s benefit but the media’s, where people now get to write about a minor organizational scandal that came out of nowhere.

Maybe the Mariners just didn’t realize what they were saying. Maybe they spoke without thinking, or maybe they thought Saunders wouldn’t be hurt by the comments. But given how guarded Zduriencik has always been with his thoughts, it’s odd that he might just blurt something out, and if he simply didn’t realize the effect this would have on Saunders, then I’m not sure Zduriencik is much of a people person. Which would go along with a lot of what we’ve heard previously. Saunders should be able to put this behind him, and if he’s a starter for the Mariners in 2015 that would be super, but I’m not a fan of where this could be heading. I don’t want to lose Saunders for nothing, and I don’t want a front office that doesn’t understand how human emotions work. This is one of those situations where the process behind what happened is of greater significance than what actually happened.

And the Cruz thing is bothersome, because it’s another indicator of ownership meddling. The actual contract terms would’ve been neither great nor terrible — that was a fair deal for the player in question. The Mariners would’ve lost a draft pick that wasn’t their first. For a while, Ken Rosenthal was reporting that, after the Robinson Cano contract, the Mariners were short on cash. He said they’d need to persuade the owners to spend more on the roster. Pretty much anything and everything of significance gets crossed with team ownership, but you usually don’t see them nix short, small deals. And keep in mind the owners still OK’d the Fernando Rodney deal. That happened in February. I assume that happened after the Cruz deal was agreed to and backed off of. So it wasn’t that the Mariners were out of space.

It seems the Mariners backed off because of steroid concerns. Absolutely, that was a valid question, and every team had it, and Cruz paid the price in the contract he ultimately received. But the Mariners’ supposed baseball experts, the people hired to fill the roles of baseball experts, determined Cruz was worth the gamble. The owners were like, nah, he’s not. The owners don’t know more about baseball than the Mariners’ front office does. And if the owners were wary of bringing a suspended PED user to Seattle, they should understand that fans don’t actually care about steroid users, in that despite all the outrage previously suspended players are supported and fans haven’t been driven away from the game. Cruz made a baseball mistake a lot of players make. The Mariners have paid money to worse people than that. Whatever number of fans would stay away because of the PED user, at least that many people would show up to the park to see some dingers. Nothing drives popularity like winning. Winning means revenue! The baseball people thought Cruz would help the team win. The owners turned them down.

I’d get it if we were talking about something for four or five years, or even like $20 million. But a year and $7.5 million, with a club option? For a player many thought was an obvious fit? In a season that needed to be successful, after the whole Cano splash? Forget Cruz’s 40 home runs. Maybe as a Mariner he hits 20 home runs. Who the hell knows? What I don’t like is this evidence of incomplete trust. You either trust your general manager or you don’t. If you don’t, you get rid of him. Members of ownership are very smart people, because they’ve made a lot of money and that’s hard unless you find it, but not a single one of them is a baseball expert. That’s why, thankfully, there are baseball experts to whom you give jobs. Owners should worry about making money. Front-office people should be in charge of building a roster. They have to have communication, but if there are disagreements, what does that tell you about organizational health?

The Cruz thing, I guess, was a year ago. Maybe that’ll never happen again. And the Saunders thing is stupid, but it seems somewhat less problematic, since sometimes people just say stupid things. If the Mariners keep Saunders and commit to him, this’ll all blow over. It’s not like the Mariners are a massive volcano about to erupt, collapsing then in on themselves and leaving a scar on the earth. But we just got readouts from some of the monitoring equipment, and the plumbing is active. There are rumblings underneath, and most of the time rumblings are nothing, and some of the time they’re not nothing at all.

There’s a certain way we’ve often felt about the Mariners, that we didn’t get to feel for a number of weeks. That feeling is back, in all its itchy warmth. We love this old blanket. It’s ratty as all hell, but we’ve had it forever.

Podcast: Hello, Offseason

October 10, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 1 Comment 

The no longer baseball season podcast debut! The Mariners are still playing, unfortunately just not baseball.

Podcast with Jeff (@based_ball) and Matthew (@msea1): Direct link! || iTunes link! || RSS/XML link!

Thanks again to those that helped support the show and/or StatCorner in general last week, and in the past, and hopefully in the future. It’s truly appreciated. And thank you to our sponsor for this episode, TodayIFoundOut!

This Offseason’s Mariner Inevitability

October 2, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 51 Comments 

If you’ve ever read any of my posts before, you know I don’t feel certain about very many things. It’s probably one of the things I most believe in — essential uncertainty, I mean. I don’t know what I want to fix myself for lunch. I don’t know if I should go to the gym or go for a jog. At this present moment I’m not entirely certain where I put my car keys. So when I get a really strong gut feeling, or something along those lines, I pay attention to it, because those moments are unusual. And the gut feeling I’ve developed that’s grown impossible to ignore is that the Mariners are a couple months away from signing Billy Butler to an eight-figure contract.

My track record with these things is spotless. I thought it was inevitable the Mariners would sign Barry Zito. I thought it was inevitable the Mariners would get Corey Koskie. I thought it was inevitable the Mariners would get Jeff Conine. I thought it was inevitable the Giants would sign Bronson Arroyo. I thought it was inevitable the Mariners would sign Nelson Cruz. Remember that? None of those things happened, which tells you all you need to know about my feelings. But they all seemed so obvious, until something very different happened. Butler seems so obvious. We’ll see if something very different happens. But it’s obvious.

Point No. 1: the Mariners want a right-handed hitter. They’re prepared to raise payroll, and they want someone to slot in between Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager, and they have an opening at DH on account of Kendrys Morales was several piles of crap and he’s a free agent anyway. Butler has plenty of experience batting cleanup in Kansas City, that being his most common placement the last handful of years.

Point No. 2: I have to believe Butler’s going to become a free agent. People have loved him in KC, and he’s loved KC back, but he’s got a 2015 club option worth $12.5 million, and he just slugged .379. The only guy the Royals paid more than that this year was James Shields, and he made just an extra $1 million to be the staff ace. From the sounds of things, Butler would be willing to negotiate a smaller deal to stick around. The Royals might raise payroll because of their success and developing playoff run. But they’re going to remain a lower-budget operation, and they can’t afford to spend that much money on an aging and potentially declining DH, and as much as Butler says he loves it there, he’d probably leave for a multi-year guarantee.

Point No. 3: this should be obvious, but the Mariners have been all over Butler in the past. The Mariners showed “strong interest” early in the 2012 offseason. The Mariners were said to “covet” Butler in November 2013. This past July, even with Butler’s numbers down and the Royals contending, the Mariners checked in as they searched the world for offensive upgrades. The Royals coveted Yuniesky Betancourt, and eventually got him. The Mariners, with this front offices, have coveted Billy Butler, and it feels like they’ll eventually get him. He’s still the same kind of player, if maybe a worse version, and while Zduriencik might be turned off from having acquired Kendrys Morales when his numbers were down, that’s one case, and he sat out for several months, and Butler was a little hotter at the plate down the stretch.

So the Mariners have money and an opening. A player they’ve loved in the past is likely to become a free agent, which means they don’t have to negotiate any kind of prospect exchange. The Mariners aren’t the only team that’s liked Butler, but they’re forever looking for a reliable DH and Butler won’t be considered by half the teams in baseball, at a minimum. Some teams already have DH candidates. Some teams will try like hell to sign Victor Martinez, and some teams will be scared off by Butler’s statistical drop-off. The Mariners might be too in love, and while Martinez would obviously be the bigger upgrade, he’s probably going to get a bigger contract than the Mariners want to hand someone his age. Martinez has his own risks, and that market will dwarf Butler’s.

I don’t know the money, and I don’t know how much money I’d be comfortable with. Not a lot, but I’m conservative, especially with designated hitters who can’t field or run or apparently hit a lot of the time. Butler last season started swinging more than ever, in the zone and out of it, and that means fewer walks, and he’s also hit for a lot less power than he did in his peak. When you put it that way he’s a disaster, but he’s somehow still not even close to 29 years old, and there still is very real power in his bat. It just hasn’t manifested very often. Last season Butler was a below-replacement player, but the five seasons previous he was an average contributor, so, what do you do with that?

I think what the Mariners do with that is sign the guy and see what happens. Jack Zduriencik has loved Butler in the recent past, and the more distant past, and he’s presumably about to become available. Lloyd McClendon saw a lot of Butler in the AL Central, and he saw the least of Butler in Butler’s worst season. All the pieces fit just so, and just because Butler isn’t yet thinking about his offseason doesn’t mean the Mariners aren’t. It’s the most obvious move I can think of. It’s a splash without taking up all of the team’s remaining resources, and it’s something the organization would feel really comfortable with, even though Butler does not have a very comfortable profile. There’s a reasonable gamble on Butler, and there’s a too-expensive gamble on Butler, and a year ago I would’ve assumed the Mariners would pay way too much. Now they’ve earned more benefit of the doubt, but Butler still seems like the easiest thing to predict on some terms.

Billy Butler will be a Mariner, just like Nelson Cruz was going to be a Mariner. I don’t feel certain about things very often. This one’s hardly even a gut feeling. This one makes me feel like I’m a man from the future. So, Mariners fans, get ready for a DH nicknamed after a breakfast. How many times could a man possibly be wrong, you know?