Go Team

December 3, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 42 Comments 

According to recent chatter, even from the front office itself, the Mariners are in pursuit of a pretty talented corner outfielder. In related news, the Mariners just traded a pretty talented corner outfielder, for a year of J.A. Happ.

This one is beyond easy to analyze. It’s almost too easy. Which player is better? Statistically, it’s Michael Saunders. Which player is younger? Michael Saunders. Which player is cheaper? Michael Saunders. Which player is under control longer? Michael Saunders. Over the next two years, Saunders will cost roughly what Happ will cost for this upcoming one year. Saunders was born late in 1986, while Happ was born late in 1982. Happ does address a team need for better starting-rotation depth. That’s been a concern we’ve all had. Problem is, now the Mariners’ outfield is Dustin Ackley and Austin Jackson. As clear as it was that Saunders was on his way out, he wasn’t out until a little while ago, and he sure looked good where he was.

I offer only two bits of consolation. One is that we’ll get over this. I got over the John Jaso trade. I got over the Jose Vidro trade. I got over the Erik Bedard trade. We’ve gotten over everything, and those who haven’t are no longer with us (on a baseball blog). It is about laundry, and it is always about the team over its players, and while it’s frustrating to think deeply about that and realize that we all agree, this is sports, we’ll all shut up and keep watching the sport. You know who the Mariners have? Felix Hernandez. Who could turn their back on a team that’s paying Felix Hernandez?

Also, it was apparent to the whole world that Michael Saunders could be had. The Mariners shopped the hell out of him, dating back at least to the GM meetings. Everyone paying attention heard about what the Mariners said about Saunders at the end of the year. It was no secret that Saunders has frustrated the team in some ways. Saunders’ value wasn’t determined by how the Mariners valued him — it’s always about the market, and I guess it should be clear that Saunders didn’t have a strong market. This wasn’t a trade that came out of nowhere. If anyone out there really badly wanted Michael Saunders, they didn’t offer much. I don’t know if Happ is the absolute best the Mariners could’ve done, but this is information. This is some indication that other teams don’t like Saunders as much as some of us do.

Yet, a team just gave four years to Nick Markakis. This team just gave four years to Nelson Cruz. Saunders’ numbers have been pretty good when he’s played. There shouldn’t have been urgency here. This team actually needs two outfielders, not one. Saunders would’ve made a hell of a fourth-outfielder type, able to step in in case Dustin Ackley were to bomb or something. Saunders could’ve had a role here, but the front office wasn’t interested.

I’m coming at this with a bias. I have to be honest. I’ve always liked Michael Saunders, from the beginning. I liked him as a prospect and I liked him as a big-leaguer. Some years ago I actually hung out with him once in a bar. We got drunk and talked about hockey and he swore that the next year the Mariners would make the playoffs. So I guess it turns out Michael Saunders is a liar. Maybe that’s why the Mariners stopped liking him.

So I can’t process this completely objectively. I can’t process anything completely objectively, but this one even more so. I like Michael Saunders, and it’s more fun when the team you root for has players you like. I guess I also liked Ryan Rowland-Smith. And Munenori Kawasaki. At some point their performances no longer justified their presences. Wasn’t the case with Saunders. The stakes are different now, with the Mariners actually poised to contend, but it’s not like they just dumped some utility player or seventh reliever. Am I going crazy? Saunders did just slug .450, right?

From that perspective, I guess it’s good for Saunders that he’s headed to Toronto. He’s going to like playing in Canada, and he’s going to like having an opportunity to play every day. Loving things and letting them go, or something. Let’s pretend like the Mariners are a good friend, and Saunders was a partner. Let’s say you like Saunders, but he and your friend were just having a lot of problems. Somewhat irreconcilable problems. From a selfish standpoint, you want them to stay together, but you realize Saunders would be happier in a different relationship. I guess if we’re talking about people, you can still try to maintain some form of friendly contact. With teams and players, that’s tampering. This was a stretch from the start.

Saunders was pretty good. Still is. Got hurt some, and that’s too bad, because if it hadn’t happened that way, maybe Saunders would still be a Mariner, and maybe last year’s Mariners would’ve gotten to the playoffs. Ultimately we’ll get past this because Saunders wasn’t a star and we forgive and forget a lot of things when a sports team is winning. Happ should play a role on the team, and he’s a decent starter, and he’s a good fit for the park, as a fly-balling lefty. Shades of Jason Vargas. But. I have to dwell on this frustration now, because I know I won’t be doing so in a few days or weeks. I want to embrace the opportunity to be upset. This was something we all saw coming, in general if not in specific, and objectively I don’t know how one could twist this as anything but a downgrade for a team in Seattle trying to upgrade.

It’s the upgrade I’m really afraid of. It’s so easy to see. The Mariners traded an outfielder for a pitcher, as the Braves signed an outfielder. Rumors have linked a Mariners pitcher to a Braves outfielder, and now it’s so, so very easy to see Taijuan Walker on the move for Justin Upton. I mean, it’s happened before, hasn’t it? I don’t want that. I’d at least hope for more coming from Atlanta’s side. But I can see it happening. Go big or go home. I know that trade could happen, and I know I’d come to terms with it, too. You know who’s good? Justin Upton. And young pitchers bust all the time, and Walker needs a lot of work, and flags fly forever, and the Mariners are so close and can you imagine what the lineup would look like if-

The Mariners are mostly done building a heck of a baseball team for 2015. In some ways, they’re doing this via routes I approve of. In some ways, they’re doing this via routes I don’t like. It’s pretty easy to see how it could all come apart, because we’ve lived that reality, but what’s done is done, and what becomes done becomes done, and we’re left with a choice: support what we’re given, or opt to sit out. Go team, no matter what, I guess. I’m sure there are things the Mariners could do that would cause me to abandon them for good, but we’ve gone through some real depths together. What’s a Michael Saunders trade? What’s a Justin Upton trade? The Mariners next year could win the World Series. If nothing else, I’m sure they’ll play baseball.

Podcast: Dealing with Cruz’s Deal

December 2, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 20 Comments 

The Mariners signed Nelson Cruz. To a lot of money for a lot of days to come. So Jeff and I discussed it.

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!

The Day That They Signed Nelson Cruz

December 1, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 36 Comments 

I don’t mean to exaggerate, but it’s kind of like being sick. If you’re like me, you’re a bit of a worrier, and you have a tendency to worry about symptoms. You worry less upon receiving a diagnosis, even if it turns out something is wrong. It’s just better to know how to focus your worry — it’s the mystery that’s terrifying. When you don’t know what’s going on, anything could be going on, and there’s no defending yourself against that. When you have an answer, you develop a plan. You’re able to think more clearly, and you see the upside in whatever is happening. Mystery is important when it comes to the good things, but when something’s bad, there’s comfort in certainty.

Many have been afraid of the Nelson Cruz contract for more than a year. Almost exactly this Nelson Cruz contract, as a matter of fact. More recently, there was also reason to be afraid of the other rumors, rumors involving names like Taijuan Walker and James Paxton and Justin Upton who’s almost a free agent. It was clear the Mariners were going to do something about their right-handed deficiency, and we just weren’t sure what that something would be. Could involve money. Could involve youth. Could involve money and youth. Last night I almost sat here and wrote about this, but I couldn’t find a thesis. Doesn’t matter now, we have the answer. It involves money. The Mariners are giving a lot of it to the Cruz family.

It also involves youth, in that the Mariners are losing a draft pick, which isn’t worth nothing. But it’s a lot easier to stomach losing something you didn’t yet feel like you had, and that draft pick didn’t have a name. It didn’t have a position and a height and a weight and a projectable body. It didn’t have a girlfriend and family members watching along in the living room waiting for a familiar name to be announced. The Mariners are trading a prospect for Cruz, but it’s a prospect they never started to mold, so the focus is on the four years and the $57 million. That overwhelms the value of the prospect anyway. Justifiably, the story is the commitment.

It’s too big. The Mariners are overpaying for Cruz. The team that loves him most — the team that just saw him lead the league in dingers — didn’t want to go past three years. So the Mariners are doing it, and they’re getting their guy, the guy they almost had a year ago before ownership reportedly nixed the deal because of a policy it must no longer have. To explain the $57-million expense, no one’s talking about what Cruz will be worth in the back half; the hope is what happens this year or next year will make it okay. The hope is Cruz will be a big help immediately, and then the future will sort itself out, and you can work around a Nelson Cruz overpay if you’re able to see it coming.

Cruz’s average salary is $14.25 million. I don’t know how it breaks down year to year, but toward the end, that’ll represent at least 10% or so of the Mariners’ payroll. Cruz probably isn’t going to be very good when he’s 37 or something. This is an example of how that can matter:

Dead money gets in the way of things. It renders your payroll a lower effective payroll. It would be silly to suggest the Mariners will be somehow immune to feeling Cruz’s decline, because they can spend only so much, and Cruz will be guaranteed a big chunk of the money, but the future’s a mystery, right? What we care about most is what we understand most, and that’s the single season ahead. In 2015, the Mariners project to be quite good. Cruz projects to be the best he will be from now on. He’s right-handed. He fills a position of absolute, inarguable need. I don’t think the Mariners acted out of desperation; I think they just saw a shining example of something, and they decided to click on Buy It Now instead of participate in an auction. They’ve been left out before, waiting until there was nothing good available. There’s some value in knowing you’ve plugged a hole on the first of December.

The Mariners were blessed with Edgar Martinez. Between 1995 – 2004, the Mariners had the best DH slot in the American League, and they were the best by a lot. Then, of course, Edgar retired, and while there was nothing wrong with his retirement, one could say he didn’t do much to help the team to identify a worthy replacement. Between 2005 – 2014, the Mariners had the worst DH slot in the American League, and they were the worst by a lot. You know the stat wRC+? It’s a measure of offense, where 100 is league-average. Over the past decade, the second-worst team DH slot has had a wRC+ of 100. The Mariners came in at 84.

Now here’s the part you really won’t believe. Red Sox DHs — David Ortiz — have led the way, with 32 WAR. Then you’ve got the Indians, at 15.6. The Blue Jays, at 10.4. The Yankees, at 9.0. Keep going down. The Orioles, at 1.0. The Astros, at 0.2. The Mariners, at -11.7. Read that again. The Mariners, at -11.7. Over the past ten years, since Edgar called it a career, Mariner designated hitters have been worth a combined dozen wins below replacement level. This might be the most incredible thing I’ve seen all year. I can’t tell. I objectively recognize it as incredible, but it doesn’t pack the same punch to me since it’s not really a surprise. We’ve all lived it. We just didn’t look at it so cumulatively.

It’s amazing how bad the Mariners have been there. At what’s supposed to be the very easiest spot to put a hitter, the Mariners have posted the same collective positional wRC+ as Ben Revere. That’s why it’s okay to feel some sense of relief. Cruz should at least hit, and hit at a not-embarrassing level, and while we’ve said that about various Mariner DH candidates before, this one feels better. Partly explains why, in the poll below, three times as many people have positive opinions as negative. Some of that’s also just bias, but we’ve lived a nightmare within a nightmare. Cruz might one day decline into a nightmare, but he should at least allow us to rest easy in 2015. And then after that, who knows? Maybe we’ll be dead.

Watch this. You’ve seen it before. It’s stupid.

That’s a stupid home run. Nelson Cruz hit it at Safeco Field against maybe the best pitcher in the American League. It’s also practically an impossible home run. Only a handful of players in baseball could do that, feels like. According to the ESPN Home Run Tracker, that home run was never more than 41 feet off the ground. Which means it was the lowest home run of the season that actually flew over a fence.

Cruz also hits the other kind of impressive home run:

He’s a pure power hitter. The alarming thing is that he’s very similar to what Michael Morse was supposed to be, and that’s a valid observation. This has gone tits up before, and Morse wasn’t signed for four whole years. But Cruz has actually been quite healthy lately, missing time in the last three years only for that pesky suspension, and it seems like Cruz won’t see much of the outfield. Cruz is also kind of what Corey Hart was supposed to be, which is another valid observation, but Hart was coming off a whole year lost. This past season, he couldn’t find his legs, so he didn’t have his swing. Nelson Cruz, to my knowledge, has his legs. Probably the kind of thing that gets noted on a physical.

Nelson Cruz is going to have what one might refer to as visceral at-bats. When he hits a pitch, he’ll really hit it, and you’ll know it immediately. Some of his home runs, you’re going to feel coming; others are going to come completely out of nowhere. You’re going to look forward to his spot in the lineup, even though he’s going to make his share of easy outs. In the short term, there should be enough productivity to make it all worthwhile. In the short term, the Mariners are trying to make the 2015 playoffs, and if they pull that off, what might be possible with the additional revenue in the seasons ahead? The ultimate message is that the team just signed last year’s league leader in home runs. That’s as matter-of-fact as it gets. The Mariners got what they wanted, and we’ll worry about the future when the future knows how 2015 went.

Here’s what could conceivably happen. Over a stretch of 255 plate appearances last June through last August, Cruz hit .203/.267/.388. It’s obvious when he’s not hitting, and when he’s not hitting, he’s pointless. Before that stretch, though, his OPS was in almost the four digits. Afterward, it was north of four digits. If Cruz falls apart, we can’t say it came without warning, because he was just bad for a couple months. But the story of Cruz’s whole career is that he makes up for his outs with his homers. There are a lot more outs than homers, but homers are a lot more positive than outs are negative. As he declines, the ratio will get worse. Cruz is the kind of guy who can pick his overall numbers up overnight. His decline will just look like slightly longer slumps.

Richie Sexson might be a data point here. His wRC+ after signing with the Mariners:

  • 144
  • 117
  • 84
  • 92

Then his career was over. Sexson provided one great year, and one fine year, and then he was dreadful. The last two years, he was a complete waste of money. But now bring that into the current circumstances. Would that be an acceptable trajectory, given where the Mariners presently stand? I think a lot of people would argue it would. People are pretty tired of finding something else to do in October.

Here’s one other way you can think about this. As long as we’re rationalizing, let’s rationalize. There’s no such thing in baseball as an obviously brilliant move, or an obviously terrible move. At least, there’s almost no such thing. Moves, mostly, have about a 50% chance of going well and a 50% chance of not going well. Some moves might be more like 60/40, and others might be more like 40/60. Let’s say that Cruz and the Mariners is more like 40/60. Let’s say it’s probably more bad than good.

What are the chances Cruz goes as projected? Like, exactly as he’s projected to go? There’s a good chance Cruz out-plays his projections, in which case, he’s basically worth the commitment. And there’s a good chance Cruz badly under-performs, in which case, he’s not worth the money, but we could write it off as an unforeseen and sudden decline. If Cruz falls apart overnight, we couldn’t say the Mariners should’ve seen that coming. It would be kind of like Chone Figgins, except that Figgins looked smarter at the outset. But, if Cruz goes badly enough, people will blame Cruz more than the front office. It’ll just be bad luck. The Mariners aren’t investing in a probable disaster, they’re just investing in a possible disaster, and the odds favor Cruz being, at worst, overpaid. Especially in four years, but the Mariners are giving four years to one Nelson Cruz, not a whole team of them.

2,000 words to say, it’s better than trading Taijuan Walker. The Mariners are a good team, and Nelson Cruz makes them a better team, and they paid more than anyone else would pay, but the need was also greater than anyone else’s, and the Mariners look to be right there among the contenders. So the Mariners, on paper, dealt damage to their own future to try to improve the present, and if it works out, benefits from the present will help to erase the future damage. Nelson Cruz wasn’t the only move the Mariners could’ve made. Other, more creative routes might’ve been possible that would require less of a commitment. For that reason, signing Nelson Cruz isn’t a brilliant move. But an acceptable move? I think we can accept it. Sometimes a man wants a double cheeseburger. Sometimes a double cheeseburger is the best god-damned thing you’ve ever eaten.

Nelson Cruz Poll

December 1, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 16 Comments 

On the one hand,

On the other hand,

On the mutant third hand,


On the fourth hand??,

I want your overall opinion. Not your opinion on 2015, not your opinion on Nelson Cruz, not your opinion on images of numbers wearing festive birthday hats — I want your overall opinion on the Mariners, today, signing Nelson Cruz for four years and $57 million, and in so doing giving up a draft pick. You by now have had plenty of time to come to terms with whatever your feelings might be! Share said feelings, by clicking a little circle on the internet.

A Lukewarm Take on the Nelson Cruz Signing

December 1, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 15 Comments 

Given the timing, the weather, and my own sentiments, “lukewarm” is about all that I could muster at this point. Unless you have been hiding under a hole in the ground for the last several hours, you are probably aware at this point that the Mariners have made an offering to free agent Nelson Cruz of four years and $57 million. Not an offering of blood sacrifice on a flaming pyre. Different kind of offering. Except we did lose the #19 draft pick to the Orioles, so there’s that.

Nelson Cruz is cashing in on an age-33 season in which he led the American League in home runs for the Baltimore Orioles. He took that one-year contract in order to build up some credibility as to his general health and well-being as an offensive producer and has succeeded. He is now, presumably, financially secure through his age-37 season although he’ll turn 38 that July. From there, who knows, except that he’ll be $57 million dollars richer. Plenty of smart people have already analyzed this move, in terms of the money offered and in terms of the Mariners player archetypes and the risks involved.

My schtick is more attuned to the minor league side of things and with that I have this much to say. The Mariners have long had a depth issue in the realm of outfielders. We have tried patching this with the likes of Abraham Almonte, Eric Thames, Trayvon Robinson, and Casper Wells (miss u) with little success over the years. It wasn’t until two Junes ago that the Mariners began to start addressing this matter through the draft with Austin Wilson and Tyler O’Neill, but as we all well know, development is something that takes time due to player adjustments and unforeseen circumstances. Sometimes, for example, players try to punch holes through walls.

Of our various bits of outfield depth at the moment, Gabriel Guerrero is probably at least two years away from being a viable contributor to the team in the outfield. Julio Morban remains an enigma for his inability to play more than 90 games annually, ever. James Jones is James Jones. It’s unlikely that we’ll have to worry about a declining Nelson Cruz so much as blocking anyone until late in the contract, barring an improbable meteoric rise by Alex Jackson. By then, we’ll shift him into DH anyway and continue batting him fourth just like Kendrys Morales because it’s the principle of the matter.

Here’s the other consideration. Had the Mariners not invested the four years and mucho dinero in Sr. Cruz, they would have likely gone into further talks on the trade market for Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, and the like. Using past rumors as template, the deals probably would have been for Walker+ and would have provided little long-term security on the investment. We presently have Cruz coming off one of his best seasons and have retained our trade chips. The core now includes Seager, Cano, and Cruz on offense, and likely Felix, Paxton, and Walker in the rotation, with a couple of those guys being pretty cheap. That’s not a bad starting point looking forward in the next few years and gets us into the conversation when projecting the top of the AL West standings.

The Nelson Cruz contract will last us four years. My reckoning has that as two years longer than I would have liked and one year longer than I was personally comfortable with. But the Cano contract has already pushed us into “win now” territory and we have done so without blocking prospects or significantly jeopardizing the team’s future. This is probably our big signing, and we may not do much more other than gather incidental pieces for the rotation, outfield, and first base/DH. That’s probably okay. The Mariners project pretty well at least through the next couple of years as it stands.

P.S. Please DH Cruz/don’t trade Saunders oh please oh please oh please

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