’14 40-Man Preview Extravaganza

November 14, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 71 Comments 

Here’s a point of perplexity for me: Every year, baseball does a great deal to improve the profile of the minor leagues through active promotion of the flashy components. We get the Futures Game, and we get the Arizona Fall League, and we get the Draft being put on the rack and stretched out to three days with a lot of televised hooplah on day one to get people excited about a player development system that has uniquely bad returns among the sports. And yet, in the offseason, when I’m looking up information on the important dates, I can’t find a single thing on when 40-man rosters are supposed to be finalized in the 2014 season, but I can find information on when the GM Meetings occur even though nothing relevant has ever happened during them. They just happened. You didn’t know it. Who cares? Why not mention a deadline? Why is that important vetting process, without which most prospects are useless, wholly ignored by the sport’s own website? How long would it conceivably take to throw just a line of information on your website? That’s it. I’m through. (storms off)

(storms back) Okay. So the name of the game this year: ’10 high school draftees and early international signings, ’11 college draftees. Those are on the chopping block for the first time. I’m going over more than just the likely candidates here, but if I omit a name that you think is relevant, ugh, I’m sorry, there’s only so many candidates that I don’t expect to be added to the roster that I can fruitlessly cover anyway. Part of the issue is that, with how the Mariners have recently operated their player development system, remarkable players get added far earlier and so this deadline becomes more surprising on average but less sexy. Taijuan Walker, Brad Miller, and Carson Smith would be eligible for the first time— zowie!— if… they… hadn’t already been added to the 40-man some time ago. What we’re left with is sifting amongst the dudes who have not already been Mariners, which takes the enthusiasm out of it. Also looking at next year, which at least now, seems like it will be far more interesting.

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Felix Hernandez Pitches Well, Loses

November 12, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 12 Comments 

I don’t know if I could love hockey more than I do, but just as I have issues with the way baseball is played, I also have issues with the other sport. Most especially — and this isn’t unique — I can’t stand the regular-season shootout. Everyone loves playoff hockey overtime, and it would be unreasonable to suggest that regular-season games have the potential to go on forever, but there should at least be more overtime, and there should never be a shootout. There should be a tie before a shootout. A shootout awards a point to a team for something other than how it plays hockey. It serves as a tiebreaker, but it’s a tiebreaker that has nothing to do with the game that was played to a tie in the first place. Feel like settling even baseball games with a home-run derby? It’s random. It’s nonsense. It’s exciting nonsense, but it’s nonsense.

If the AL Cy Young race were a hockey game, it was played to a shootout. Felix Hernandez’s team had 1, and Corey Kluber’s team had 1, and then they couldn’t break the tie, so they went to the designated tiebreaker. The tiebreaker didn’t reward the better team — it rewarded a team, where no better team stood out. Because this is America, hockey games aren’t allowed to end in ties. The Cy Young voting, in theory, can end in a tie, but that hasn’t happened for decades, so more realistically, someone had to win. Every ballot had a first place and a second place. The individual ballots can’t reflect how close a race this was. The overall ballots can, and did. Corey Kluber beat Felix Hernandez because someone was going to beat someone.

I was surprised. You were surprised. Felix and Kluber were surprised! We all kind of assumed. Some of us wrote about how Kluber probably wasn’t going to get enough support in the voting, given Felix’s first-half momentum and given Kluber’s relative anonymity. But see, the voters are also readers, and in addition to that, the voters aren’t idiots. They’re a lot smarter than they used to be. You don’t make votes based on momentum. You make votes based on the numbers you pull up in front of your eyes. Once people really took a look at Felix vs. Kluber, they were left thinking, welp, gotta pick one. The voting tally indicates it came down to little more than a coin flip.

It would be difficult to make up a closer race than the one that just concluded. The innings were the same. Neither pitcher got hurt. Felix pitched in a better environment with a better defense, but he also induced weaker balls in play. Felix seems to have gotten more help from his catchers. Some of that is because of Felix’s own command. Felix seems to have faced an ever so slightly more difficult schedule. It was that close. The gap was well within our own statistical error bars, and really, I don’t see a gap, anyway. I’ve looked at this off and on for months. The two pitchers were equally good. Which means there’s nothing to be upset about, except a justifiable loss that could’ve been a justifiable win.

There are people who feel like Felix should’ve won because he ripped off that 16-start streak. Valid — that was an incredible streak. He ran a 1.41 ERA. Kluber ran a 1.77 ERA over his last 18 starts. Why focus on fractions of a season? Other people feel like Felix blew it when he allowed eight runs to the Blue Jays in his penultimate game. I’m absolutely sure that did cost him, but all it meant was that voters would take a harder look at Kluber than they otherwise might’ve. Again, we’re left with the overall season performances. Had some things happened differently, the outcome would’ve been different. Felix had chances to cement his victory. If you want to stick with the hockey-game analogy, Felix’s team rung a few shots off the crossbar before time expired. He allowed this to get as far as a shootout, and then it was out of Felix’s hands. 50/50, like Yoervis Medina throwing a strike.

As always, this makes you wonder a little bit about the nature of rooting. We all like the Mariners, so we all like seeing the Mariners win awards. It’s like a little sugar rush. But the awards are to recognize outstanding performance. Felix not winning the Cy Young doesn’t do anything to retroactively change his performance. It doesn’t do anything to change his future projection. Maybe, this reduces Felix’s chances of making the Hall of Fame by like a tenth of one percent. And next year, when Felix gets introduced, he’ll get introduced a second or two faster, time that would’ve been filled by saying “your 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner”. But there’s a funny thing about that shorter introduction: the sooner it’s over, the sooner Felix gets to pitch. That’s what we actually care about. That’s why there’s always a huge group of people with signs and bright yellow t-shirts. Felix Hernandez, this past season, was arguably the best pitcher in his league. That’s because Felix Hernandez is arguably the best pitcher in his league.

It would’ve been nice for Felix to have the label. Not a whole lot of two-time Cy Young winners. We would’ve gotten a little rush, and Felix would’ve given an awesome press conference, with awesome quotes about how he’s awesome and how he thinks this city and this team are awesome. Would’ve been an evening of warm fuzzies. But we aren’t fans for the warm fuzzies in November — we’re still hoping for the warm fuzzies in October, and what happened today has not anything to do with what’ll happen in 11 months. Felix himself managed to say it best:

“[The Cy Young Award] means a lot,” Hernandez said. “But my goal is just to win the whole thing with this team right here, the Seattle Mariners. They deserve it, the fans deserve it. Individual stuff doesn’t matter, this is a team sport.”

Have I mentioned that the Mariners project to be one of the best teams in the American League? The competition is incomplete, but the Mariners are also incomplete, and they’re working to improve. You get today to be bummed about the award. Day’s almost over.

Podcast: Potential Future Mariners

November 11, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 4 Comments 

On a recent trip deep into the outlaying heart of Mt. St. Helens, Jeff and I came to a realization after many hours of meditation and peyote – that we hadn’t recorded a podcast in forever! Not literally. So we rectified that, getting the recording mostly done under the wire of the ensuing power outages taking hold.

So quickly download this, and curl up with a candle, and a good whisky — maybe some Overholt Rye? — and enjoy!

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!

Michael Saunders and Perceived Value*

November 7, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 38 Comments 

I have a clever memory when it comes to the failed experiments of the Mariners organization. I remember fondly the year where the Tacoma Rainiers tried to field six to seven DHs. I was overjoyed that minor league season when we tried to convert at least five position players to the mound, which culminated in trying to teach a career catcher the knuckleball. And I recall, with less fondness, the beginning of that three-year span where the Mariners initiated a supposedly revolutionary conditioning program that later fizzled out and went unmentioned for the last two years of its implementation. Since baseball remains that sport where from a mechanical standpoint, no one has a clear idea of what’s right or wrong, it certainly seemed like a good idea at the time, unlike the other trials, which were fun!, but not well-advised.

A story that I read during that period but now can’t find in archive (edit: Reader and LL author Colin O’Keefe tracked it down) made comparison between two kinds of strengths, a “lateral” strength, which was presented as the good kind, and the “vertical,” which was bad I guess unless you were Russell Branyan. For the purposes of illustration, the Mariners trotted out two of their younger hitters and demonstrated that one Dustin Ackley was a good boy for having the right, lateral kind of strength, and that Michael Saunders was suspect for having the wrong, vertical kind of strength. A weird spectacle to go through, but surely the Mariners were proud of their recent draft pick and wanted to use the example to vet both him and the new method.

The reality of Mariners fandom is that since Ackley debuted in 2011, he’s accumulated 6.3 in offensive WAR according to B-R and in the same span, Saunders has had 6.4 in oWAR, which includes a rather disastrous -1.1 2011 and fewer opportunities both that year and in 2014. And Ackley gets the boost of a 2.7 oWAR in 90 games in 2011, a clip he has never come close to repeating. The past three years, of course, provide few metrics you can look at that wouldn’t say that Saunders has been the superior offensive performer (7.5 oWAR vs. 3.6 oWAR, as one example). These are facts that exist as we enter the offseason and rumors begin to emerge that the Mariners will be expected to shop Michael Saunders around on the heels of them calling him out earlier in the offseason. Swell timing, guys.

Jeff and Matthew and others have discussed the matter of general management and how, as multiple organizations have gone out to develop their braintrusts and start implementing methods previously relegated to use by nerds, the gap of talent amongst GMs has closed and it’s no longer an easy inefficiency to take advantage of. But the Mariners are not a team that is presently perceived as having management on that cutting edge, instead they use their old methods, have their old favorites, and sometimes things work out for them. Sometimes things work out for the Giants and the Royals too. Sometimes things don’t work out in the same way.

We talk about organization blind spots and how one group might prioritize this or that and do it exceptionally well and another might be deficient. One recurring sentiment, I would guess, amongst new GMs is a tendency to value the players they’ve inherited somewhat differently from the players that they themselves acquire. It’s natural, different philosophies and all. And one thing that we saw as the Zduriencik team got settled was that there was an inclination to remove players who were holdovers and retain those who had the present administration’s stamp of approval.

I don’t know what changed particularly in the trajectories of Ackley and Saunders. We know that Ackley has messed with our hearts and minds so much that we have taken a .245/.293/.398 batting line from last season, as a corner outfielder, and ascribed to it new hopes of improvement. We also know that Saunders re-invented himself as an offensive player a few years back thanks to Josh Bard’s brother and his rubber bands (remember those? remember when we wanted to hire them as our hitting coach?). The lateral/vertical thing of 2010 may not hold true in the same way now. But we are also aware that Saunders has had difficult stretches, last year on account of rushing back from a shoulder injury a bit too quickly and this year, partially on account of a freak illness that caused him to lose fifteen pounds which he contracted from his baby daughter. The shoulder and oblique injuries that preceded that? Maybe those are on him and his conditioning. Maybe they aren’t.

What we also know is what we’ve rehashed the past month+. Saunders was called out by the organization for his work ethic in a 2014 wrap-up press conference. This was the first time Saunders became aware of any dissatisfaction with his personal upkeep. And if we know that much, we can also conjecture as to whether or not the Mariners sat down with Saunders and said “look, what can we do to work together to try to ensure that this doesn’t happen again?” From experience, talking about Saunders and Smoak and other players, we’re also cognizant of another possible blind spot, in that many present Mariners have had to go outside of the organization for solutions to what was perceived as holding back their performances. Which brings to the fore another point: Would Justin Smoak, a young first baseman who never hit above .240 and has slugged over .400 once over a season in his five years in the major leagues, have been granted so many opportunities had he been a Bavasi holdover?

I feel like I’m down to the point where I’m trying to make a pattern on inference alone. I certainly don’t know how involved the Mariners are with player conditioning, for one. Maybe we just hear about the outside efforts because it’s unusual. Working internally is no news at all. But we’ve seen the Mariners play favorites with their guys, we’ve seen them undervalue and sometimes marginalize players who don’t fit into their present scheme (Jaso), and we’re now seeing Saunders, who was not their guy and who in the past did not adhere to the current ideology, talked about as an expendable part in a struggling outfield where another, favored player continues to get chances with less in the recent past to support his case outside of general health. Let’s see where this goes. I’m not especially looking forward to it.

* The Author would like to note for the record that he has been defending Saunders since USSM had its original cast and was holding pizza parties on Capitol Hill, so, probable bias.

Justin Smoak, Bad Good Baseball Player

October 28, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 31 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 · 15 Comments 

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

CONTEXT

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.

KEY PLAYERS

Kansas City:

Roster

San Francisco:

Roster

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

KEY QUESTIONS

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!

X FACTOR

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.

CONCLUSION

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 · 37 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?

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