Rule 5 Draft Caps Off Frenzied Winter Meetings

marc w · December 11, 2014 at 12:30 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

The Rule 5 Draft took place this morning in San Diego, with teams looking to glean a useful player from the pile of former-can’t-miss-prospects, injured pitchers, and org guys. Of course, it’s tough to focus on the draft when teams have made so many moves over the past few days. The M’s added a new lefty today, but the story of the past week has been how much the division landscape has changed since late November.

First, let’s do some due diligence about the Rule 5 draft. The M’s selected lefty David Rollins, a pitcher in the Astros organization. This was actually the third time they’d drafted Rollins, tabbing him in the 23rd round of the 2009 draft, and then the 46th round a year later (this after he turned the Dodgers down out of high school). He eventually signed with Toronto, and then moved to Houston in a 10-player trade that sent new Mariner JA Happ to the Jays. Rollins’ splits against lefties are impressive, so the thought process makes some sense here – the M’s did well in grabbing Lucas Luetge a few years back, and they probably see Rollins in that role. He’ll probably compete with Edgar Olmos, the lefty the M’s grabbed from the Marlins, for a LOOGY role in the 2015 bullpen. The M’s didn’t lose anyone in the draft this year. The only M’s name that BA’s Rule 5 guru JJ Cooper had mentioned in the run-up to today’s draft was Steven Baron, so….yeah, not a huge shock there. Some teams may have thought about Jabari Blash, but the power-hitting OF would be tough to keep on a roster, and isn’t realistically ready to contribute now.

So the M’s 40-man is once again full, and Fangraphs’ depth charts give us the first, hazy glimpse of how the AL stacks up. By this measure, the M’s have the best team (on paper) in the AL, fractionally ahead of the Tigers and Red Sox. So the projection systems must really be high on Nelson Cruz, right? Not so much. Instead, the story of the off-season is how much the M’s have benefited from their rivals’ roster moves. The A’s, again, on paper, were an elite team. By run differential, they were the clear #1 team in baseball. By base runs, they were neck and neck with the Angels, Nationals and Dodgers, but still a 94-95 win behemoth. As Dave has said many times, you can’t simply take last year’s *results*, add/subtract for player movement, and come up with a new expected winning percentage. Clearly, the team wasn’t “starting” from a 95-win base, not with Jon Lester and Jason Hammel on their way out the door. Still, the point is that the core of their roster was very good, maybe even excellent, heading into 2015. With Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, and Jeff Samardzija earning arbitration salaries, that core wasn’t terribly expensive, either (it was clearly more expensive for the A’s than it would be for the M’s or other teams, but these were not guys making market-rate salaries by any stretch). Between Nov. 29th and December 9th, the A’s essentially dumped that core, for a collection of pieces that replenish a farm system depleted by last summer’s trades and cost-controlled young players to fill out the 2015 roster. That helps balance their ability to compete now with their ability to compete going forward, but let’s be clear – an AL West favorite as of late November has voluntarily sunk their playoff odds for 2015.

Maybe this is what they had to do, given that their roster wasn’t necessarily improving. Maybe the A’s are especially loathe to lose a player like Samardzija to free agency instead of dealing him with a year left on his deal. Maybe Joey Wendle will shock the world, the way the A’s did the last time they did something like this, back in the winter of 2011. Clearly, the A’s aren’t done with their shopping, either. At this time in 2011, they didn’t have several of the players that would star on their 2012 division winner, notably Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick. Still, the A’s appeared to have a team that would’ve been running with the Angels and M’s for AL West supremacy, and have instead settled for a team that looks – right now – to be a bit better than .500. They’ve been very public in saying that they didn’t believe that they could compete with their 2014 core, but look at any projection system you want, and that claim looks…odd. Steamer/ZiPS have been optimistic about the players they’ve added, notably Marcus Semien, Ike Davis and Brett Lawrie. But the drop from Moss, Donaldson and Samardzija is still too much to overcome. Whatever the gap between what they gave and what they got really is – and personally I think it’s a bit more than the projections show – the *direction* of the gap shouldn’t be in doubt. The A’s got worse for 2015, the year that the M’s have pushed their chips in the middle and decided to go for it.

This may make a lot of sense for the A’s, who have constraints the rest of the division doesn’t have. They may see the fangraphs projections for the Angels as too pessimistic; David Forst and Billy Beane have both talked about an “eleven win gap” between the A’s and Halos in justifying their activity, breaking sabermetric orthodoxy and giving a roundabout vote of confidence to Matt Shoemaker and the rest of the Angels’ staff. Whatever the reason, and however you personally rate Shoemaker, CJ Wilson and Garrett Richards’ chances, the M’s have been given something of a gift here. The M’s have added through the subtraction of others. For years, we’ve been looking at an M’s window that always seemed at least two years away. The gap between the M’s and the other teams was just too big in the short term, and then you had the perpetually loaded system of the Rangers to deal with as well. I always worried that the M’s would hit their window only to find a 98-win monster in Arlington or Anaheim waiting for them. The A’s had what looked like an elite team last year, a team that wouldn’t be as good for 2015, but that had enough talent to challenge the M’s at a minimum, and they’ve cashed it all in. It’s impossible to know now how the teams will stack up in March, but man the M’s look better today than they did a few weeks ago.

What’s interesting to me as that, as is so often the case, the A’s seem to be moving in the opposite direction as everyone else. The talk in baseball for the past year has been that thanks to the second wild card, almost no teams are ever clearly out of the running. The number of “selling” teams at the deadline was limited to the truly down-and-out. The M’s would’ve been sellers in years past thanks to a massive gap between 2nd and 3rd, but now could exchange Nick Franklin for a CF and continue their run. This offseason, we’ve seen that last-place teams can make a run at the next season’s pennant if they have some money. The Cubs and White Sox each won 73 games last year, but have been incredibly active, trading young players for stars and making a splash in free agency. The Cubs have perhaps passed the A’s on paper at this point, while the White Sox still need a few more moves (or a breakout), but both have clearly ditched the old conventional wisdom about building over a period of years, and identifying a young core. The Sox grabbed Samardzija for a single year; this is not a long-term play. The Padres [edit] *tried to grab* Cuban free agent Yasmani Tomas,* and just completed a trade with the Dodgers to land OF Matt Kemp, despite a lackluster 2014, and a chasm between their club and the Dodgers/Giants at the top. All of this speaks to the value these clubs put on contention and making the postseason. So why have the A’s hacked away at their chances in 2015? Sure, they may have helped their chances in 2017 or so, but every other move suggests that the A’s don’t value 2015 playoff odds the way other teams do.

One possibility is that, given the state of the game, the best place to be on the win curve for a team without a ton of money, is right at that 82-83 win mark, and with a young club. Sure, you know you’re starting the year a step behind the division leaders, but you have several months to see who steps up, and you go into the trade deadline knowing what you need – or knowing that you have assets to sell. In this scenario, the marginal cost to move from, say, a 25% chance of a postseason berth to 50% far outstrips the marginal utility. The error bars on all of these projections are wide enough that maybe the A’s are right, and that from, say, 81-87 wins, it’s all more or less the same – that the smart play is to either go big (pushing to 91 or so projected wins), or go nimble by sticking at a cheap 82. I have no idea if any of this is right. I’m just happy that we’re dissecting the A’s decision to get worse (for now) and not the M’s. The A’s may be right about the economics of it all, but the M’s organization could use a playoff push, economics be damned.

* Initially said that the Pads got him, which of course they didn’t – the D-Backs did. The Padres surprised a lot of people by hanging in that particular bidding war, but ultimately it was another disappointing NL West team that came out with Tomas.


25 Responses to “Rule 5 Draft Caps Off Frenzied Winter Meetings”

  1. Longgeorge1 on December 11th, 2014 2:19 pm

    I read in the paper this morning that Taijuan is the new Michael Saunders. We need a right fielder maybe we can trade TW for MS

  2. Eastside Crank on December 11th, 2014 3:08 pm

    Is there anyone in the Mariner organization with less credibility than Uncle Fester (okay, Lincoln)? Walker’s problem is the lack of major league ready pitches. Right now, he has the repertoire of a reliever. He is not ready to contribute this season.

    The Mariners look like league leaders and yet they have only one outfielder who rates as above replacement level? Until they get production from CF, SS, 1b, C, RF, and DH I think the coronation is a bit premature.

  3. Avery Bowron on December 11th, 2014 4:35 pm

    Sorry to nit pick, but Arizona, not San Diego won the bidding for Yasmani Tomas. San Diego tried pretty hard to sign him, by all accounts, so your general point still stands.

  4. taylor.mariner on December 11th, 2014 4:45 pm

    Am I crazy? I thought that Arizona signed Tomas? Not San Diego?

  5. taylor.mariner on December 11th, 2014 4:46 pm

    ^^^^^ thanks for confirming avery

  6. Longgeorge1 on December 11th, 2014 6:32 pm

    San Diego has Kemp and Detroit has Cespedas. I a really glad Kemp is gone.

  7. seattleslew on December 11th, 2014 8:02 pm

    Me too. I hope they don’t sign Melky longterm. Rios on a one year deal isn’t horrible, but I wouldn’t do that either. Don’t trade for a rental… please. It’s great and funny to see the Dodgers make these savvy moves. Are you paying attention, Jack?

    Of course there’s talk of acquiring Viciedo. Again?! Are you seriously a MLB GM? For goodness sake.

  8. Edward Baker on December 12th, 2014 8:25 am

    I have to believe that if the M´s floated a rumor involving the dreadful Viciedo they´re just throwing garbage at the radar screen.
    I have to come down on the side of Crank. Prior to coronation there´s a lot of work to do–two, not one but two, outfielders. Hoping that the guy in left field can finally put together a season and that the guy in center really is a legit leadoff man. Settling on a shorstop. Teaching their talented young catcher to hit major league pitching, which starts with narrowing his strike zone to King County. A ver cuándo fichan a Melquíades, coño. (Sign Melky!)
    Small stuff.
    I´ll light a candle.
    Call me when they win a couple of ballgames.

  9. Hutch on December 12th, 2014 8:54 am

    Given the M’s current position I’m kind of shocked that people are talking about clear B-level moves like Aoki or Rios or Viciedo. If the Braves aren’t willing to budge on Upton go ahead and move on, but I think it’s lunacy to pass on Melky at this point. If they want to play good cop-bad cop for a while to make sure they can keep the contract to four years instead of five, great, but he’s too obvious of an upgrade to this club (and has a relatively high floor and young age for a FA) to pass. You pushed all your chips in on Cruz, what’s the hold up on Melky?

  10. Westside guy on December 12th, 2014 9:17 am

    With regards to the Mariners’ standing in the FanGraphs rankings, count me in the skeptical category too. I understand (and agree with) Marc’s point that it has more to do with other teams heading downward than the Mariners getting better; but I find it hard to accept that a team with so many holes and question marks could be that good – especially given how at least some of what got them to 87 wins last season seemed to be sheer luck (e.g. no significant bullpen pitcher failures).

    But that’s why they play the games, I guess.

  11. joser on December 12th, 2014 3:37 pm

    I always worried that the M’s would hit their window only to find a 98-win monster in Arlington or Anaheim waiting for them.

    . Me too. I figured Karma was such that the next time the M’s had a 90+ win team they’d have to experience what the 2001 Mariners did to the 102-win Oakland A’s (or what 103-win A’s and 99-win ’02 Angels combined to do to the 93-win Mariners AND Red Sox — keep them out of the postseason altogether). I guess it could still happen.

  12. joser on December 12th, 2014 3:40 pm

    I think it’s ridiculous that the M’s might spend a lot of money to sign the very outfielder the Jays surplused by getting Saunders, but at this point that’s probably their best option. I guess at least we get to see all that new Root money on the field, even if it’s not all embodied in the players we’d like.

  13. Longgeorge1 on December 12th, 2014 4:57 pm

    Melky – close – negotiating 3 or 4years

  14. seattleslew on December 12th, 2014 5:34 pm

    I agree with Joser. It’s awful that the M’s shipped Saunders to Toronto and now they’re left with paying a hefty price for a player who is equally fragile and unpredictable, older, subpar defensively and less athletic. I don’t understand. If the Mariners are so concerned with durability, then why are they going after Melky? I commend the front office for standing their ground, holding on to the farm, but it doesn’t seem like the best use of resources, just another stooge moment.

  15. casey on December 12th, 2014 6:35 pm

    this winter it seems like this site has become a place for Mariner ex-pats to hang out. No matter what move gets made, or the talking heads even rumour about them making, you can drop by and hear from those that are disgruntled with all things Mariners big and small.

    Not a lot of analysis or even stat based commentary anymore – just a lot of sigh, and then more sighing…. most of all don’t enjoy those 87 wins in ’14 because they sure weren’t 88 wins and did I mention they and everything associated with them suck.

    Used to be a great site for articles and fan commentary.

  16. heyoka on December 12th, 2014 9:03 pm

    yeah, bah humbug

  17. LongDistance on December 13th, 2014 3:43 am

    You know it’s bad when even irony fails you …

  18. mrakbaseball on December 13th, 2014 9:40 pm

    Melky Cabrera to the White Sox, now what?

  19. MissouriMariner on December 13th, 2014 9:52 pm

    Now we sell the farm for Justin Upton……

  20. MissouriMariner on December 13th, 2014 9:52 pm

    Most likely trade Miller for Viciedo….ugh

  21. groundzero55 on December 13th, 2014 11:49 pm

    Honestly given a choice between the two, I’d rather trade a bunch for Upton. Viciedo? We’d have been way better off keeping Saunders.

  22. LongDistance on December 14th, 2014 5:10 am

    Trade Miller for Viciedo. Woah. Stop. I know we’re going into the late December doldrums and all. But let’s not just completely go mindless. Miller IS Viciedo and Viciedo IS Miller….

    I was going to say that “even the Mariners FO knows that”, but I’ve taken a vow to water down the irony, given how much I truly enjoyed the 2014 season, despite decades-old disappointment that it’s just a liiiiitle hard to forget about.

    Nevertheless, Miller vs Viciedo is a no-brainer, in that there’s nothing to trade or even think about.

    At this point, I think it’s just media hype, a few bandwagoning reporters, absolutely insisting that our RF is a blackhole, that’s making our RF a story. Telling us that Jack and his team absolutely HAVE TO fill that fucking hole.

    Me, I think Saunders would have done it. But what the fuck do I know. Maybe he was, behind closed doors, a huge pain in the ass.

    If the Mariners absolutely want to put a lock on the Wild Card, right now, they’ll make one more splash.

    Otherwise,I think they’ll stand pat now and they’ll watch how things shake out from April to May, and make a decision about hole-plugging come end July. OK?

    And, frankly… just to keep things honest, I’ll go on the line to say I’m OK with all this.

    Go M’s.

  23. Longgeorge1 on December 14th, 2014 10:23 am

    Let’s bitch about going for Melky, Bitch when we don’t get him.

    At this point time to “stand Pat” as in Gillick.

    Just put three guys out there who can catch, bat them 7,8 and 9. I’ve seen worse. haven’t we all.

    Get real this is the M’s not “An Evil Empire”

  24. Westside guy on December 14th, 2014 12:11 pm

    I’m just as happy the team didn’t drastically overpay for Cabrera. I’m hoping it’s not because they think Cruz can handle right, though.

    In any case there are still months between now and spring training – we will see what happens.

    It’s interesting how almost every team apparently sees itself as a contender, after last season. Almost no one is selling.

  25. seattleslew on December 14th, 2014 12:20 pm

    Like all of us, I’m confused about the Saunders trade. In this case, not making a move is better than a bad one. As the M’s go, I’m relatively happy with their moves thus far. If they can have (Miller) or can find a couple guys to successfully platoon RF, then they’re ready to go.

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