M’s Flurry of Moves and the End of An Experiment
As we found out all too early last night, Mayckol Guaipe was called up to provide some help to a beleaguered bullpen.* The M’s pen had been worked pretty hard in the Cleveland series, particularly the Sunday game, and with Danny Farquhar in Tacoma (and changing roles), you can understand the need to add a live body. The problem was the flip side of that move – optioning SS Chris Taylor back to Tacoma.
We’re less than a month from the announcement that the Mariners were officially moving Brad Miller from his perch as the starting SS and shifting him around the diamond. Taylor would be the SS, and Miller could help fill holes in the OF, spell Seager and/or Cano, and get some work in CF. As I mentioned at the time, it was an odd move, borne of frustration with problems in the OF, and one that would, in the short term, probably cost the M’s a few runs. So it’s a good thing the M’s seem to be undoing this rash decision, right? No, it’s somewhat troubling.
Taylor struggled at the plate, and that played a role in this, as did the bullpen shortage. But to do something as big as moving your starting SS to the OF is an expression of priority. It says, given the depth we have at SS, and given the problems we have in LF/CF, fixing the OF – and seeing what MIller’s capable of out there – is MORE important than offensive production at SS. If offense at SS was a critical issue, you’d never have made the swap in the first place, as no projection system and no observer would see Taylor as a better all-around *hitter* than Miller. Given the learning curve, the disruption to Miller and his own development, one would expect that the list of things that would cause the team to abort the Zobristification would be pretty short. Taylor gets hurt/traded, Ackley turns into an offensive force and stays productive for X months, the M’s acquire a great CF…something like that. As reasons to pull the plug go, “Chris Taylor had 30 bad ABs” is not terribly substantial. Neither is, “But the bullpen is so tired!” As it is, they stopped their experiment so soon that it makes it harder to extract a lot of meaningful information from it. If the M’s want to really understand if they have a CF for next year (assuming Austin Jackson walks), well, what do they know? Miller played 39 innings in the OF – 6 of them in CF. 6 innings.
The other alternative is that Austin Jackson’s hot start (he has 8 hits in his 7 games since coming off the DL) reduced the need to see what Miller was capable of. Again, this seems wholly unsatisfactory to me. The M’s dealt with Miller’s frustration, and then had him learn a new position (actually multiple positions) on the fly, dedicating coaching resources to the process as well. If a 7 game sample from Jackson’s enough to shake your faith in the entire enterprise of changing Miller’s position, then you had no business doing it. It’s the same thing as saying that Taylor’s bad month necessitated a move. Some decisions are worth revisiting after a few weeks. This does not seem like one of them.
Tacoma SS Ketel Marte, one of the M’s top prospects, just broke his thumb over the weekend, and will miss the next 6
months weeks [sorry about that – six WEEKS, not six months. It’s not THAT bad]. I don’t even want to contemplate the idea that the M’s were influenced by the need to bolster Tacoma’s IF, so I don’t think that’s it. The M’s SS depth is a little lower than it was, so you could argue that the lack of depth behind Taylor could’ve been a thumb on the scale – a minor point that added a bit of impetus to returning Miller to the position full-time. I think it’s valid as a very consideration, but it’s several orders of magnitude less important than the reasons they cited when they made the switch in early May. Besides, the M’s have TWO decent SS in AA in Jack Reinheimer and Tyler Smith. Neither are prospects in Marte’s (or Taylor’s) class, but they’re not pure org depth either.
I wasn’t a fan of moving Miller off SS, but I can certainly acknowledge that there was an upside. It did make use of the M’s SS depth, and having a lefty CF in the mix in 2016 is pretty intriguing. Whatever I thought of it, it needed to be implemented with some conviction. Miller wasn’t thrilled with the idea, and while he may like returning to SS, he probably also feels like he’s been dicked around by the team. The M’s have some strengths, and they have some problems. They need to focus on those problems and work to solve them, not let short-term issues drive their decision-making. That’s hard for a team in a losing streak, and it’s hard for a team that’s probably keeping a close eye on their own playoff odds. But short-term thinking of this kind doesn’t necessarily improve those odds; you can’t fix your biggest problems if you can’t decide what they are.
* Guaipe had a great MLB debut, but he’s been optioned back to Tacoma to make room for tonight’s starter, Mike Montgomery.