The other day, Ken Rosenthal expressed that the Mariners want Jacoby Ellsbury or Shin-Soo Choo. On its own, that hardly says anything — every team would want Jacoby Ellsbury or Shin-Soo Choo, and indeed each player will have maybe as many as a dozen serious suitors. They’re two of the very best players on the market, freely available, where by “freely” I mean “absurdly expensive and”. But we know the Mariners have money to spend, and we know they have a need, for both talent and excitement. We know they were linked to Ellsbury and Tim Lincecum for a while, and Ellsbury hasn’t signed a contract yet, and he has the loosest of area ties. It’s easy to envision a Mariners offseason in which they make a splash by spending big on a free-agent outfielder. Provided the outfielder lets them.
There are arguments in favor of such a move, and there are arguments against. Among the latter, this is the simplest. Let’s just use Ellsbury’s name. Let’s say the Mariners sign Ellsbury, and they get him at a six- or seven-year commitment worth $20+ million a pop. Ellsbury would project to be a valuable player. But he’d also be getting paid like a valuable player, as the Mariners would have paid the market rate, or realistically something a little higher than that. The real core of value is in the difference between what you should be making and what you are making, as a good player. With Ellsbury, there likely wouldn’t be a big difference. He’d make the Mariners X wins better, at the market cost of something like X wins.
It’s easy to just focus on names, and Ellsbury’s is a significant one. Hero in Boston, and all that. Widely hyped. He’d bring the Mariners some more star power. But teams are made up of names with salaries. Yes, if the Mariners were to sign Ellsbury, you could write Ellsbury’s name in for the next several years. But the same money could be put toward other names, multiple names. It isn’t a choice between the Mariners with Ellsbury and the Mariners without him. It’s a choice between the Mariners with Ellsbury and the Mariners with other acquisitions, at least in theory. Other acquisitions that would provide Y wins, at some other market cost.
There’s something to be said for talent consolidation, but the Mariners aren’t at the point at which they can worry about talent distribution. They still need to worry about just talent, and it’s not like they’re in pretty good shape across the board. Obviously, last offseason’s Red Sox went the way of spending on a bunch of different guys, and while that’s not the only model that could work, that’s a model that just worked. Don’t get caught up on Ellsbury’s name. There’s a lot more to the picture.
A pretty important factor: what tends to be the case is that big-time free-agent signings provide the most value toward the beginning of the new deal. Over time, the players get worse while the salaries remain high, and teams accept that because of the earlier years. As currently constructed, the Mariners look like something like a 70-win team. It’s hard to come up with any offseason plan that makes them much better than .500. The point being that the Mariners don’t look to be on the verge of something, new star or no. So a big-time acquisition now might spend the most valuable years on a team that isn’t good enough yet.
In theory, the Mariners would have some advantage from having so many cheap young players contributing on the roster. Performance from low salaries allows a team the flexibility to pay for performance from high salaries. In reality, the Mariners don’t have much in the way of established quality youth. It doesn’t help that the team can’t count on Dustin Ackley or Jesus Montero or Justin Smoak. It’s a nice thought, and it might come true, but it can’t be counted on like it’s automatic.
Of course, bad teams have to get better somehow, and money needs to be spent, since it doesn’t do anyone any good to have extra budget flexibility go back into the owners’ pockets. This is a simple argument, to which the simplest counter-argument is
- who cares
- do something
I know I’m tired of not caring. I know I want to be passionate about the Mariners again, and I know I’d be excited by a new Ellsbury or Choo. Ultimately we just want to feel, and it’s such a rush when the team makes headlines with an acquisition. It makes it so much fun to look forward, it makes it so much fun to daydream, and fans can worry only so much about crap like “being responsible”. But a business can’t stand to give in to emotion like that. You must stay the course of responsibility. If you get frustrated with under-performance and become irresponsible, that can make the problem only worse, kickstarting a miserable death spiral from which there’s little hope of recovery. Recovery, that is, without starting over again.
Here’s maybe the neatest thing, though, at least for fans of bad teams, like us: while we can often identify what is and isn’t responsible front-office behavior, baseballing success isn’t determined just by responsibility. There’s this huge, huge element of luck, or at least unpredictability, that allows a team like the Giants to win two world championships during the Barry Zito Era. The Cardinals can make a World Series with a shortstop like Pete Kozma, and the Mariners can make a World Series with a somewhat irresponsible front office, so it’s not like signing Ellsbury would mean anything other than the Mariners signed Jacoby Ellsbury. All that would guarantee is that Ellsbury would suit up in the uniform. There’s not actually any telling how it would play out, and this gives more substance than you might like to admit to the “who cares / do something” crowd. Who cares? Do something. It might work out super. Maybe it won’t, but maybe the responsible course wouldn’t work out, either.
The Mariners are likely to go hard after Jacoby Ellsbury. They might sign him, and if they do, they’ll be committing nine figures. On paper, it probably won’t be the smartest thing. There would, however, be points in support, and we’d all be pretty fleetingly excited, and when it’s all said and done, welp, lots of stuff is going to happen that we didn’t see coming. The reality of an unknowable future can be used to justify anything, dangerously, but then there is a reason for that. There’s certain comfort in chaos.
For FanGraphs, right now, I’m writing about a new trend around MLB toward hiring managers with little or no managerial background. Mike Matheny didn’t have a track record when he was hired by the Cardinals. Neither did Robin Ventura when he was hired by the White Sox, and neither did Walt Weiss when he was hired by the Rockies. Recently, the Tigers hired Brad Ausmus, and the Reds promoted Bryan Price, and the Nationals hired Matt Williams. It feels to me like six is meaningful — it feels to me teams around the league are less afraid of inexperience than ever before. Word is the Mariners are hiring Lloyd McClendon. He’s been the only guy linked to the Mariners who’s managed much before. He was in charge of the Pirates for five years at the beginning of the millennium, and the Pirates totally sucked.
On this basis alone, it’s beyond easy to be cynical. It was probably going to be easy to be cynical, regardless, since cynicism is our Seattle Mariners battle station, but here the team is visibly going against a new trend. It’s hiring a guy with a history, and whose history wasn’t successful. The Mariners are passing up an opportunity to try something new and different, something which might really shake things up.
This was, by far, the hardest off-season plan post I’ve ever done. For one, you’ve probably noticed that I’m not writing here nearly as often as I used to. Part of that is that my life has gotten busier, and I’ve committed to spending more time with my friends and family since getting leukemia — side note: clean checkup on Friday, now 25 months in remission, huzzah — but part of that is also that my interest in this franchise is waning. It’s not gone, and it never will be gone, I’m sure, but the Mariners have made themselves far less likable, and far less interesting, and in general, I just don’t get the same satisfaction in writing about the Mariners as I used to. For the first time, this post feels like an obligation. I’m basically putting it out there because I know a lot of you want to read it, not because I particularly wanted to write it.
And I think part of that reality comes from a place of just knowing that the actual decisions being made this winter are being made in an awkward situation, where the front office almost certainly has a mandate to put a winning team on the field in 2014 even though they don’t have a roster that resembles anything close to a winning team. This feels like the Mariners are headed into the off-season that the Royals had last year, sacrificing the long term future for a short term run at mediocrity because everyone’s tired of losing. Maybe I’m reading this all wrong, and maybe they’re going to make good decisions and add a bunch of quality players at reasonable prices, but that’s not at all what I’m expecting them to do, and my guess is that it’s not what their marching orders are either.
So, I’m basically making a bunch of suggestions to try and reach an end goal — a winning Mariners team in 2014 — that I’m not even sure is reasonably likely. This team is far away from being good, and it’s going to take a lot of good outcomes to make them into even a winning club, much less a legitimate contender. But I don’t think saying that my off-season plan is to keep making smart moves until the team is ready to win actually helps anyone, because that probably wouldn’t fly for the front office this winter, so instead, I’m going to make a bunch of suggestions that I think could maybe get them as close as possible to a winning team without totally burning the future to the ground.
It requires some risks, and yes, it requires an increase in payroll, but with the national TV money getting disbursed to each franchise, not raising payroll this year would be akin to slashing it in prior years. Just to keep up with the rest of the league, payroll should go up. I’m not asking for any more than that, because an off-season plan that assumes a $125 million payroll doesn’t help anyone either. So, I’m going for a $95 million payroll, not including random 40 man guys, incentives, and all the extras the Mariners include in their calculations to boost the number and make it sound better. They would probably calculate that this team cost over $100 million when all is said and done. But if they want to win next year, they have to spend more money, because they’re so far away from being good that there’s no real way to get from where they are to where they want to be without buying some free agents. And free agents are expensive, so if they’re going to tell the front office to put a winning team on the field, they have to allow the front office to spend more money.
Again, I don’t think any of this is necessarily the right plan for the organization right now. I think that would have involved an organizational overhaul, a realistic assessment of where the team’s talent base currently is, and a solid plan to get the team to a sustained level of success. But that’s not what the Mariners are doing. So, with the caveat that this is an attempt to build a plan that works within what the Mariners are doing, here’s my 2014 Off-Season Plan.
Sign C Brian McCann to a six year, $90 million contract.
Sign OF Chris Young to a two year, $14 million contract.
Sign DH Corey Hart to a one year, $6 million contract with a bunch of incentives.
Sign SP Chris Capuano to a two year, $8 million contract.
Sign SP Roberto Hernandez to a one year, $3.5 million contract.
Sign RP Jose Veras to a one year, $3 million contract.
Sign MI Ryan Roberts to a one year, $1.7 million contract.
Analysis of these moves below, but for a second, here is what the imagined opening day roster might look like, along with projected batting orders against both righties and lefties.
|C||Brian McCann||$15,000,000||SP||Felix Hernandez||$23,000,000|
|1B||Justin Smoak||$2,800,000||SP||Hisashi Iwakuma||$6,500,000|
|2B||Dustin Ackley||$500,000||SP||Chris Capuano||$4,000,000|
|SS||Brad Miller||$500,000||SP||Taijuan Walker||$500,000|
|3B||Kyle Seager||$600,000||SP||Roberto Hernandez||$3,500,000|
|CF||Chris Young||$7,000,000||CL||Danny Farquhar||$500,000|
|RF||Michael Saunders||$2,000,000||RH||Matt Belisle||$4,250,000|
|DH||Corey Hart||$6,000,000||LH||Charlie Furbush||$600,000|
|C||Mike Zunino||$500,000||RH||Stephen Pryor||$500,000|
|IF||Josh Rutledge||$500,000||LH||Brian Moran||$500,000|
|IF||Ryan Roberts||$1,700,000||RH||Erasmo Ramirez||$500,000|
|Vs RHB||Player||Bats||Position||Vs LHB||Player||Bats||Position|
|1||Brad Miller||L||SS||1||Dexter Fowler||S||LF|
|2||Kyle Seager||L||3B||2||Ryan Roberts||R||2B|
|3||Corey Hart||R||DH||3||Corey Hart||R||DH|
|4||Brian McCann||L||C||4||Brian McCann||L||1B|
|5||Dexter Fowler||S||LF||5||Chris Young||R||CF|
|6||Michael Saunders||L||RF||6||Kyle Seager||L||3B|
|7||Chris Young||R||CF||7||Mike Zunino||R||C|
|8||Justin Smoak||S||1B||8||Brad Miller||L||SS|
|9||Dustin Ackley||L||2B||9||Abraham Almonte||S||RF|
|Bench||Mike Zunino||R||C||Bench||Justin Smoak||S||1B|
|Bench||Josh Rutledge||R||IF||Bench||Dustin Ackley||L||IF|
|Bench||Abraham Almonte||S||OF||Bench||Michael Saunders||L||OF|
|Bench||Ryan Roberts||R||IF||Bench||Josh Rutledge||R||IF|
Okay, now the explanations.
This plan is weird. It calls for the team to commit big money on a long term deal for an aging catcher when they have invested a lot into Mike Zunino and anointed him the catcher of the present and future. It spends $7.5 million on two starting pitchers after trading away a starting pitcher who would make $500K next year. It spends another $7.5 million on two relievers, even though relievers are fickle and spending money on bullpen pieces often works out poorly. It calls for Justin Smoak to remain a regular, even though I don’t think Justin Smoak is worthy of a regular starting gig on a team trying to win in 2014. I imagine your first read over this will be “this is nuts”. It kind of is.
But hopefully the result of a lot of nutty decisions would be a team that had very few just glaring, unsolvable problems. This team, as constructed, would run three platoons, leaving only the backup shortstop without a defined role in the line-up on a regular basis. It would restore the outfield defense that has historically roamed around Safeco Field, giving the team’s pitching staff a chance to actually have their fly balls turned into outs once in a while. It adds a couple of guys who thump left-handed pitching, plus a slugging lefty who should enjoy pulling balls down the right field line at Safeco, and a 28-year-old switch hitting outfielder who could actually be a productive piece to both improve the team and build around going forward. It creates a pretty deep bullpen, and gives the team six Major League starting pitchers, so they’re not totally screwed if and when one of the original starting five get hurt or end up being terrible.
It’s not a great team. It might not even be a good team. But it has a chance to be a good team, and it doesn’t kill the team’s future. It’s the best balance I could figure out how to strike. It might be too balanced, producing neither a winner next year nor in the future, but if the mandate is to put a good team on the field without punting the farm system in a desperate hail mary, then I think this at least heads that direction.
Let’s start with the two big pieces that are likely to draw 95% of the reaction; throwing a ton of money at a catcher and trading Paxton and Franklin for an okay hitter at altitude with bad road numbers. McCann first.
First off, note that this is not a situation where McCann is displacing Zunino entirely. By having him split his time between catching and first base, it would essentially create a three way job share between McCann, Zunino, and Smoak. McCann would get the opportunity to be an everyday player and not have to DH — a thing that some players really dislike doing, so keeping him away from DH would be a nice carrot in negotiations — while Zunino and Smoak essentially fight over one job. If Zunino improves dramatically and proves to be ready for regular catching duty, he could essentially split time behind the plate with McCann, keeping both fresh and well rested.
But there’s also the reality that Zunino may very well not be ready to be a big leaguer yet. He was not very good in Seattle and particularly terrible in Tacoma last year, and the team should at least be prepared for the fact that he might need more time in Triple-A. If they go into the season with Zunino and some random backup behind the plate, and Zunino proves overmatched, then they have a glaring hole that could essentially sink their season. Signing McCann as your “big bat” provides a top flight option behind the plate while also giving you the flexibility to have him play a decent amount of first base if Zunino proves ready to play more regularly.
And yes, I know that McCann is a lot less valuable at first base than he is at catcher, and paying $90 million to a catcher only to have him spend a decent chunk of his time not catching sounds stupid. But you shouldn’t look at McCann’s offensive numbers as a catcher and then just assume they’ll stay the same at first base. There’s a decent amount of historical precedent for guys improving their offensive production when they move out from behind the plate, and McCann should be expected to hit a little bit better when he’s playing first base than when he’s catching. And if the job share works correctly, you’re not so much as shifting games caught to games played at first base as you are taking days off and moving those to games played.
An “everyday” catcher in the big leagues starts about 110 games per year behind the plate. Matt Wieters was the league leader in games started catcher last year with 134, but most of the regulars were around 100 to 120. The rest of the time, most of them sit and watch. That’s 40 to 50 off days a year, where they’re not playing because of the physical demands of their job. By having McCann share catching duties with Zunino, you could aim for something closer to a 90/70 split, and then McCann could start another 50-60 games at first base, and all of the sudden you have his bat in the line-up 140 or 150 times instead of 110.
Depending on how quickly Zunino develops over the next few years, McCann would eventually move into more of a starting first baseman/reserve catcher role, but the Mariners could keep using him behind the plate for 40-50 times per year in order even as he gets older as long as he’s healthy enough to keep catching. Rather than phasing him out of catching entirely, they could offer him a path to an everyday job that still allows him to catch about 1/3 of the time, even as he gets older. This would likely be a more appealing sales pitch than having him start at catcher and move to DH in a few years, and it would be a better use of his skills, since he is a good defensive catcher and would only be changing positions to keep his body healthy.
So, instead of pursuing a defensively challenged 1B only and then trying to find a player good enough to share time with Zunino but not too good to want to catch everyday, McCann offers a nifty combination of depth at both catcher and first base, without forcing the team to use two roster spots to plug these holes. He gives the team a power hitting left-hander, but also gives them the flexibility to not have to depend on both Zunino and Smoak as everyday players in 2014, and can be positioned for the future depending on who develops and who doesn’t.
Now, to the trade. I imagine that the first response to trading James Paxton and Nick Franklin to acquire Dexter Fowler (and stuff) is going to be pretty negative. I know that a lot of people like these two guys more than I do, and are going to see this as giving up on a hard throwing lefty and a power hitting second baseman way too early in their careers, especially given that Fowler only has two years of team control remaining and would be something of an unknown quantity getting transported from Coors Field to Safeco Field.
However, if the Mariners want to win sooner than later, this is the kind of move they have to make. They have to exchange some upside and long term potential for a short term upgrade somewhere, and by targeting a guy like Fowler — who is going into his age-28 season next year — you’re not totally punting the future as much as betting on a different looking future. Fowler’s a switch-hitter in his theoretical prime who hasn’t really lived up to offensive expectations of when he was a prospect yet, but has still developed into a pretty solid player in spite of maybe being a bit of a disappointment. In some ways, he’s Colorado’s Michael Saunders.
I know that probably isn’t a reassuring comment, especially for people who got very excited by Paxton’s final start of the season. But I think the idea of James Paxton is likely going to be better than the reality of James Paxton for quite a while, as his command problems are still very real and unlikely to go away any time soon. The Rockies play in a park where walks and groundballs are actually a pretty good combination relative to letting opposing batters make contact, and flipping Fowler for Paxton and Franklin would give them a power arm for their rotation and shed some payroll that they could use to go sign the “power bat” they’re craving this winter. I know that often times the trades suggested in these posts get scoffed at by the fans of the opposing team, but I’d guess the Rockies would love this kind of package, as it sets them up to have exactly the kind of off-season they’re hoping for.
But it also solves a bunch of problems for the Mariners. Paxton can be replaced in the rotation at a lower cost than a new outfielder can be imported via free agency, and the pieces coming along with Fowler would provide some value as well. Matt Belisle is one of the game’s most underrated relievers, and could step in nicely to an 8th inning setup role or move into the closer’s job if Danny Farquhar falters. Josh Rutledge would provide a right-handed hitting infielder who could serve as a reserve for the three left-handers, and has some offensive upside in his own right. But Fowler is, of course, the key to this deal.
Projecting a position player leaving Colorado is always tricky, and often, people will simply look at his road numbers and treat those as something close to his “true talent level”. That’s not how it works, though. Hitting at altitude doesn’t just help you help hit better there, but there’s a decent amount of evidence that it actually hurts you when you’re not hitting at altitude. Breaking balls move in the other 29 parks in a way that they don’t move in Denver, and going on the road after two weeks of seeing flat hanging sliders can require a dramatic adjustment. You can’t just take Fowler’s road numbers and assume that’s what he would hit in Seattle. Park adjusting his offensive numbers is a better path, and shows that Fowler’s been an above average hitter the last three years even after taking Coors Field into account, but even this isn’t perfect. We really don’t know how Fowler would do at sea level. It is a risk, certainly, that his offense was boosted more than we know by his home park, and perhaps he would lose all of his power without the thin air helping his fly balls carry.
But, at the same time that we have to expect his offensive numbers to decline somewhat, we should expect his defensive performance to get better. Coors Field’s primary trait is inflating hits on balls in play, and this means that nearly every Colorado outfielder rates very poorly in defensive metrics. Metrics like UZR and DRS are park adjusted, but just like offense is different at Coors Field, so is defense, and balls that Fowler did not get to in Colorado may hang up long enough for him to run them down in Seattle. Physically, he’s got the natural skills to be a center fielder, but like Saunders, he might end up profiling better as a plus defender in a corner. Add in average offense and you’ve got a pretty good everyday player in his prime. He’s not Jacoby Ellsbury, but he’s a decent approximation of that kind of player at a much lower price, which allows the team to actually fill the rest of the holes they need to fill.
With Fowler and Saunders flanking newly signed free agent center fielder Chris Young, the team’s outfield defense would once again be among the best in the league. Young’s bat has heavily regressed since his days in Arizona, but there’s still some upside left, and even if he’s just a plus defender in center who mashes left-handers, that makes him kind of a healthier Franklin Gutierrez. Average hitting center fielders who can play defense aren’t that easy to find, and Young has the chance to get back to that level, while also providing some necessary power against left-handed pitching.
Speaking of thump against lefties, that brings us to Corey Hart. He’s coming off two knee surgeries, and spent all of 2013 on the disabled list, so while he’s said he wants to return to Milwaukee, spending a season as a DH and proving he can stay healthy is probably a better long term plan. Jack drafted Hart back in 2000 and clearly knows him well, and Hart would fit in well as a cheaper Kendrys Morales replacement. If he proves healthy enough to play the field, that gives you another option at first base in case Smoak doesn’t hit, and maybe he even gets a little time in the outfield, though I’d call that unlikely given his health issues. He’s a gamble, certainly, but the right-handed power is legitimate, and the Mariners could be a nice landing spot for Hart to prove that he’s ready to be an everyday player again.
That’s the big moves. The minor ones are essentially filling holes.
Chris Capuano replaces Paxton in the rotation, and provides a lefty who can throw strikes and get some strikeouts while giving up the occasional longball. It’s like getting Jason Vargas back, basically, except he should come cheaper because he’s older and coming off a season where the Dodgers kept bouncing him from the rotation to the bullpen.
Roberto Hernandez provides more depth for the rotation, and is another bet on peripherals instead of ERA. If he flops, then Erasmo Ramirez is ready to take his job, and he could turn into a right-handed bullpen option for when the team needs a double play. If his home run rate comes back to normal, then he’s a cheap 5th starter who keeps the team from having to turn to Blake Beavan ever again.
Ryan Roberts comes in as a utility infielder to platoon with Dustin Ackley and back up Kyle Seager. He’s always hit lefties well and has a ridiculous amount of energy, so he’s kind of perfect as your off-the-bench spark plug.
Jose Veras hits the market after a poor postseason and getting rejected by the Tigers, who didn’t exercise his $4 million option, but he’s still a solid enough right-handed reliever who can get lefties out often enough to not be a total specialist. He’d give the team some more depth and another possible closer option if Farquhar faltered. I don’t love spending money on the bullpen, and perhaps the development of Pryor and Capps would make this redundant, but the bullpen could use an upgrade and Veras is a decent value at a few million bucks.
The team can afford to plug those holes because McCann/Fowler/Young/Hart only cost about $35 million between them. If the team spends $20 million on Ellsbury and another $15 million on Morales, it’s almost impossible to see how they’re going to also find room for another outfielder along with upgrades at both catcher and first base, so I’d rather split the $35 million four ways than put it in the Ellsbury/Morales pairing.
The costs of this move are punting on the futures of Paxton and Franklin and betting on McCann to age well. However, I think Rutledge offers some of the same strengths as Franklin while also fitting better into the team’s structure since he’s right-handed, and Fowler’s future production can offset the loss of Paxton if he succeeds as an above average OF and the team re-signs him before he gets to free agency. Betting six years on McCann should be a little less scary since the Mariners wouldn’t be asking him to be a full time catcher for six years, and $15 million for a good-not-great hitter seems to be about going rate now even without including the defensive value that comes from having him catch.
Is this team good enough to win next year? Maybe, maybe not. They would need Ackley to remember how to hit, Hart to stay healthy, Walker to develop into a consistent starter, and one of Zunino or Smoak to take a big step forward, plus not have any disastrous injuries that exposed the organization’s lack of depth. There are a lot of things that could go wrong here, but it would at least give them a chance to be a winner in 2014, and it would keep the most important parts of the team’s future in place for the long term.
Best guess? I think this is probably an 80 to 85 win team, but it has a chance to outperform that, and maybe get Seattle interested in baseball again. Who knows, maybe they’d even get me interested in the team again too.
Last offseason, the Mariners agreed to pay Joe Saunders $6.5 million, and then he pitched like Joe Saunders would pitch in front of a bad defense. Today, the Mariners have turned down an opportunity to pay Joe Saunders $6.5 million, leaving him a free agent. It absolutely makes sense, and I’m by no means saying the Mariners made a bad decision, but there’s a cynical angle here for anybody who feels like being in a bad mood. You don’t even have to look that hard for it. The Mariners make it pretty easy.
But the other news is that the Mariners also declined the 2014 option for Franklin Gutierrez, leaving him a free agent as well. Gutierrez will therefore be exposed to the market, as the team wasn’t going to commit $7 million after all the problems he’s had, and the probability is that Gutierrez’s days in this uniform are over. That’s by no means guaranteed, and the Mariners are more familiar with him than anyone else, but that might be the whole point, and it would be easy to see another team viewing Gutierrez as a high-upside potential bargain. Put most simply, if a guy can sign with any one of 30 teams, the odds of his signing with one team are pretty small.
I remain convinced that Gutierrez captures the very essence of this whole experience. Maybe more now than ever, I don’t know. We’re fully aware of Gutierrez’s potential, because we got to see him around his ceiling for an entire season, not far back. We’re also, simultaneously, fully aware of Gutierrez’s capacity to disappoint, sometimes for predictable reasons, sometimes because of a disease few of us had ever heard of before. Probably, Franklin Gutierrez is going to let you down. But what if he doesn’t? What if he doesn’t? Can you imagine?
I personally find it almost impossible to objectively look past that upside. Perhaps because I don’t know if that would be truly objective. People always talk about certainty and reliability and whatnot as selling points, but how reliable is a supposedly reliable player, really? Upside is real, and upside can drive high-achieving seasons. If Gutierrez had spent the last several years with another organization, we’d identify him now as a potential free-agent bargain. As is, plenty of people will say they’re all out of patience, totally ready to move on, but I can’t move on, not while I know what Gutierrez can do.
An average, reliable player might give you an average performance for 100 games, or 160 games. A player like Gutierrez might give you anything across a vast spectrum. He’s a risk, but are the Mariners not in the very position to take some little risks? Right now they probably project as something like a 70-win ballclub. Who’s going to thumb their nose to upside? My sense this past season was that the Mariners were more than ready to move on, once Gutierrez was sidelined again, but a lot of that sense was coming from Eric Wedge, and now Eric Wedge isn’t here anymore. The guy who most loved Gutierrez isn’t here anymore, either, but, you never know. Maybe Zduriencik still sees the glimmer. He has been watching the Mariners.
And Gutierrez did some interesting things late last season. When he was sick, and I mean really sick, the biggest issue was his lack of strength. He didn’t have any quickness, he didn’t have any muscle. Last year he batted 151 times, and he clobbered ten home runs. That’s twice as many as Mike Zunino. That’s half as many as Justin Smoak, in 29% the time. I’m going to cheat, here, but let’s set a minimum of 150 plate appearances and sort the league leaderboard by isolated slugging percentage (SLG – BA). We find Guti at .255, and we find David Ortiz at .255. There’s Paul Goldschmidt at .249. Guti’s in 11th out of 399, and while he’s behind some guys like Jeff Baker, Donnie Murphy, and Ryan Raburn, there are sluggers up there, too. Lots of ‘em. There’s reason to believe Guti has his power back, which means there’s reason to believe his health situation is at least manageable.
He’ll never be what he was that one year. At this point it’s a physical impossibility. He’s older, so his defense won’t be as good, and he’s more careful, so his defense won’t be as good. Same goes for his baserunning. And Gutierrez has spoken about the difficulty of playing too many days in a row, so he’ll probably never be an everyday guy. But he’s a guy who can handle center and swing the bat, and he’s not yet super old. He’ll be 31 next February, but that’s 31 with a lot of medical attention and lesser wear and tear. It’s a fragile 31, but a talented and capable 31.
Maybe he could be good for 400 plate appearances. Maybe 500, if you really stretch. The neat thing about Gutierrez in this market is he shouldn’t require that much of a commitment, given, you know, what he is. No one’s going to look at him and see an everyday player, because that would be silly. At most, he’s a regular, and a regular you want to support with perfectly capable backup types. Outfielders with versatility who are good enough to play but maybe not good enough to start right out of the gate. Outfielders like Michael Saunders and Abe Almonte. In those two, the Mariners would have some depth, in the event that they kept Gutierrez and he needed some time off. And they’d play often enough that it wouldn’t feel like they were wasting away on the bench. With Gutierrez in the fold, there’s playing time for lots of guys.
The Mariners need help in the outfield, badly, especially if Nick Franklin or Dustin Ackley gets moved. They need help beyond what Gutierrez could provide, because what they need are starters. But that’s a separate issue, and I see room for Gutierrez here if the front office isn’t too sick of him. Guarantee some millions with incentives. Include a 2015 vesting option for a good amount of money that Gutierrez could trigger with modest playing time. Let him know that he’ll get his money if he stays on the field, and give him that chance, again. It’s not like it’s Gutierrez or a guy like Ellsbury or Choo. This team needs a lot of help. If you want to dream, dream away, because lots of people can fit.
Odds are, the Mariners won’t be real good in 2014, so this is a time to take some shorter-term chances. A good 2014 Mariners team would need good performances from a wide variety of players, and Gutierrez is at least capable of that, if he can play more than half the time. With Saunders and Almonte, the Mariners could survive another injury by planning for it ahead. I don’t know what there is to lose, provided Gutierrez doesn’t cost a fortune. Money and games? The Mariners have been losing money and games for a decade. I mean, they’ve been earning money, but losing money on underproductive players. If Gutierrez were to under-produce, or not produce at all, that’d be a bummer, but the process would’ve been okay and the season wouldn’t be instantly tanked.
Do it. Do it, unless some other team blows Gutierrez out of the water for some reason with a big contract guarantee. Do it, unless the team knows something particular about Gutierrez’s condition that dooms him to an ever-disappointing remainder of his career. Do it, because Gutierrez has been awesome here once, and he helped the team play good baseball and galvanize a downtrodden fan base. Things have been dark ever since, but you can always surprise, and surprises are always explicable when you examine how they took place. If Gutierrez were to have a productive 2014 over semi-regular playing time, would that really come as a shock?
Maybe I’m just completely blinded by upside, upside that might not really exist anymore, upside you could find somewhere else. I know I’m not completely rational about guys like this, in the way that a lot of people weren’t always rational about Rich Harden before. But, actually, I think they were on to something. Between 2008-2009, Harden posted a 3.07 ERA over 51 starts. The two years before, he posted a worse ERA over 13. Talent before durability. Durability gets you Joe Saunders and Jon Garland. Talent can get you nothing, or everything.
In Howard Lincoln’s October 1st remarks, written up by Ryan Divish, commented on here by Dave in Lincoln Speaks, Hope Disappears, there’s another thing that’s been bothering me. To quote Divish’s piece
How do you sell this team to fans? If two fans were standing here right now and asked, ‘Why should we spend our money to go see your product?’ What do you tell them?
First I’d tell them that when you get to Safeco Field you are going to have a safe, friendly environment. You are going to be sitting in a first class ballpark. You are going to get great entertainment. It’s a great place to come whether it’s at the Pen or at Edgar’s or wherever. So there’s a lot of things going on at Safeco Field for the fans to enjoy besides watching major league baseball. And I would point that out to them. Many of our fans are thinking about things other than just what’s on the field, so we have to provide a really good entertainment experience across the board as well as getting that major league team to perform.
This was not the deal we made. Go back. What was the case made for the stadium vote? Was it
1) Build a safe, friendly, really good entertainment experience across the board or
2) Build a stadium that will allow the Mariners to be competitive and financially viable?
The choice between those two options was actually on the ballot. At the same time the stadium was coming up, Seattle was thinking about another huge project: the Seattle Commons, in what’s now Amazonia. The proposal for the Seattle Commons was to create a beautiful, safe, park everyone could be proud of — as Cleveland’s Jacobs Field was offered as an example of what a new modern baseball field could do, so the Commons would bring the city together as Boston’s Commons, or New York’s Central Park. This is almost same-variety-of-apple-to-apple comparison.
Seattle Commons lost (57/43), and was not rescued by legislators afterwards. What if you had pitched the ballpark in the way that Howard Lincoln does now?
“Please fund the construction of a new stadium so that the Mariners can make gobs of money and Seattle can have a gigantic video screen with a couple nice places to eat terrible food during the games and also a playground. You know, for kids. Also unwatchable baseball.”
Read everything, or anything, John Ellis and the Baseball Club of Seattle said, from the first ask through the part where they sued the city for no reason, all the way to the opening of the long-awaited stadium. What’s the message?
“This stadium will allow us to be financially viable and field a competitive team.”
We did get that after Safeco opened. It’s hard to remember sometimes. And then… this. I know it’s unrealistic to expect any team to be competitive year-in-and-year out. Since 2003, though, we’ve had ten years of awful. Ichiro and Felix toiling in futility. The highest executives of the Mariners scoffing at the A’s, who this year again went to the playoffs in a season where the M’s lost over ninety games.
This was not the deal, and this is where I differ from Dave when he talks about the loss of hope (and resigns himself to going to bed and maybe punching himself in the face). I agree with Jeff:
The Mariners weren’t provoking any sort of emotional response at all, and that’s supposed to be my most favorite team. I didn’t just not want to watch them; I actively avoided them, and I recognized my own behavior. But it turns out it wasn’t baseball — it was the Mariners. The Mariners were downright unwatchable for stretches. I’m sitting here, watching the playoffs, and it’s incredible.
I haven’t gone to a Mariners game since I saw Ichiro in a Yankees uniform, in right field, here in Seattle, that first game after the trade. I loved baseball, and after that game I never felt the urge to go, or watch it.
Then on vacation, I was eating dinner in a bar with the game on, and I felt the same way Jeff did — it was incredible.
We shouldn’t be hopeless. We should be angry, and demand better. There haven’t been changes at the highest levels because we managed to give the team the financial security they desired, and now it is a defense against recognizing their problems — if anything, it has allowed the team’s highest people to crawl further and further back into denial that there’s any need to change.
If two fans were standing here right now and asked, ‘Why should we spend our money to go see your product?’ What do you tell them?
I tell them do not spend your money to go see your product. It’s clear the team takes entirely the wrong message from each dollar spent. We can’t break our side of the contract and take the stadium or the team back. But we can remove that financial security.
 sadly enough, one of the arguments against the Seattle Commons was that it would gentrify South Lake Union and cause housing prices to spike, and an argument for it was that it would attract high-tech companies to the area
 In concept. In price, the Commons was a relative bargain. Seattle Commons price tag? $111m for a 60-acre park. People were skeptical of the cost, which… well, you saw what happened with Safeco Field. The sheer difference of the prices makes the contrast in support even more stark. If the Commons had gone on the ballot at $340 million, how poorly would it have fared?
 Is there? Was that something that got dropped in the renegotiation that caused Shelly Yapp to resign?
Finalists for the 2013 Gold Glove Awards were announced Friday, and the Mariners didn’t have anybody included, because they weren’t good. They did, however, have a pair of finalists for the 2013 Gold Shoe Awards.
Raul Ibanez, outfield
- -20.5 UZR/1000 innings, t-2nd-worst in baseball
- -22.8 DRS/1000 innings, 2nd-worst in baseball
Michael Morse, outfield
- -20.5 UZR/1000 innings, t-2nd-worst in baseball
- -27.6 DRS/1000 innings, worst in baseball
Congratulations, Raul Ibanez and Michael Morse. Even if you don’t end up golden, your cleats were certainly made of some kind of metal.
Maybe the most important thing the Mariners have to do all offseason is hire a new manager to steer the team going forward. Or maybe that’s literally the least important thing on their to-do list. Who among us can say? Keep this point in mind. It’s kind of the whole point of this post. The Mariners have to hire a new manager because they couldn’t reach an agreement with Eric Wedge. That would be one not incorrect way to put what all happened here.
The Mariners have already started interviewing candidates, and the names they’ve been linked to are mostly the names every team is linked to when they have a managerial opening. This should be settled within a matter of one or two or three weeks, and then we’ll officially know the name of the team’s next major scapegoat. While the Wedge chapter arrived at a weird and uncomfortable ending, my sense is that fans aren’t too broken up over losing him. He didn’t make the Mariners win, after all. He didn’t feel like a good manager.
And Wedge was in the news today. Turns out he’s going to interview for the open Chicago Cubs position. He isn’t thought to be the favorite, but he’s going to get himself in the offices, interviewing with another team trying to progress from rebuilding to contention. On its own, that isn’t so remarkable, but the reason I bring this up is because of who’s running the Cubs these days. The Cubs have turned themselves into one of baseball’s more forward-thinking, analytical organizations, the kind of organization we thought we had here a few years ago. The Cubs seem like they’re doing things right. They’re going to interview Eric Wedge. Many people here were unimpressed by Eric Wedge.
What the hell do we actually know? That’s the question I always inevitably come back to whenever I’m reading about a managerial hiring process. What we know are the names of candidates. We can research their histories, and we can pay attention to whatever quotes they might offer. We can’t do any analysis. Even if a track record exists, we don’t know how to interpret it.
At least from the fan perspective, the managerial hiring process is like ordering off an indecipherable menu, a menu written in hieroglyphics. You can try to figure something out from what you’re presented, but you’re not going to know anything about the entree. You’re lucky if you figure out a single ingredient. Also, the cooks in the kitchen change by the day, so you don’t know the conditions responsible for your meal. And after the meal, you don’t actually know if it was good. You know whether you had a negative or positive overall experience, but you don’t actually know why. Stretch it far enough and this simile kind of falls apart.
The most insane thing about managers is also the most obvious thing. We have no idea who’s good. We have no idea who’s going to be good. We have no idea who was good in retrospect. We don’t know how much a manager actually matters. We don’t know how much depends on the environment into which a manager is placed. It stands to reason someone who’s a good manager with Team A might not necessarily be a good manager with Team B. Players are different, mood’s different, situation’s different, manager performance is different. We don’t know a damned thing. I’m not even convinced the teams doing the hiring know a damned thing. I mean, yeah, they’ll come away with some preferred candidates, based on the interviews, but those teams can’t tell you what difference the next manager should make. If the Mariners picked up Mike Trout tomorrow, they’d be, I don’t know, eight or so wins better. If the Mariners hired Chip Hale tomorrow, they’d have hired Chip Hale, and that would mean something or nothing, and we’d never know what it meant.
Gun to my head, I’d say the best manager in baseball is Joe Maddon. I’ll freely admit a lot of that is just based on results, and he makes some tactical mistakes, and I’m just biased in favor of the demonstrably open-minded. I feel like Joe Girardi did a great job in New York this year, but I don’t know. I used to think Mike Scioscia was phenomenal, but more recently people have wanted him fired because the Angels, who always overachieved, have underachieved. Terry Francona was apparently good for a while and then suddenly ineffective and he had to go somewhere else to be welcomed. The point is that the whole damned thing’s so mysterious I can’t believe people following a hiring process end up with rooting interests.
Who can really pick a favorite managerial candidate? Or, who can reasonably support such a pick? Every year, this is such a big story for a handful of teams. It feels important, getting a new manager and coaching staff in the dugout. It’s also a story that’s just about impossible to discuss. It should always be reported on — it’s something that’s happening, after all — but what is there to be done beyond the reporting, save for repeating the reporting? How are we supposed to know who could work here? How are we supposed to know how well someone could work here? How are we supposed to pretend we know anything?
This isn’t an original topic, and I’m far from the only person who feels like this. It’s just kind of mind-blowing to me, every time. Here’s this thing, this seemingly important thing that’s happening with the Mariners, and, welp. We’re frequently made to look stupid by baseball when we make our projections or whatnot, but at least we can have facts on our side and the knowledge that over bigger samples, we’ll be right more than we’ll be wrong. There aren’t any facts with managerial candidates, not facts that we know what to do with. So there’s this sense of feeling like I ought to have an opinion, but knowing that I shouldn’t. I’d like the Mariners to keep away from Dusty Baker, but even that I can’t support with meaningful data. It’s just an automatic response.
Pretty soon, the Mariners are going to hire a new manager, and we’ll never have any idea how good of a job he did here after it’s over. We’ll know how the team did and that will color our feelings, if not determine them completely, but that won’t be good analysis. The truth is it’ll forever remain a mystery, or at least effectively forever. Maybe you personally don’t trust the Mariners to hire the right candidate. Who would you trust? A team I’d trust is going to interview Eric Wedge.
If there was one thing that felt absolutely inevitable, it’s that we were in for weeks and maybe months of Tim Lincecum to Seattle rumors. People in Seattle, maybe more than any other MLB city, absolutely yearn for every kid with anything close to a local tie to end up in a Mariners uniform. Lincecum was a star at the University of Washington, and a lot of people are still upset the Mariners passed on him in favor of Brandon Morrow way back when. Finally free to make his own choice about where to live and work, it seemed like Seattle would be high on his list of choices. And the Mariners, even with Taijuan Walker and James Paxton hanging around, need to improve their rotation. It seemed like a match made in Obvious Heaven.
Tim Lincecum cares not for the narrative, apparently. Today, before testing the free agent waters, he re-signed with the Giants for another two years. Why would he do that, you might ask? Because the Giants gave him $17.5 million per year and a full no-trade clause in order to stick around.
Yes, Tim Lincecum, coming off a couple of years of near replacement level performance if judging by runs allowed, was just guaranteed $35 million for the 2014 and 2015 seasons. A pitcher thought to be perhaps an interesting buy low candidate for teams looking for value instead turned out to be a pitcher who was in line for 70% of Felix Hernandez’s annual salary. Tim Lincecum will get more money next year than Hisashi Iwakuma will get from the Mariners for his first three seasons with the team. There is no buying low here. The Giants are paying Lincecum as if he’s just been humming along as a high quality pitcher with no real bumps in the road, at least in terms of annual salary. Without the bumps he’s actually hit, he’d have gotten this kind of salary for 5+ years, so the discount came in settling for just two.
But, still, there’s no way the Mariners should have been interested at this price. I wrote today over at FanGraphs that there was little difference between Lincecum and Dan Haren, who is expected to sign for something in the range of about half of what Lincecum just got. Today’s deal for Lincecum almost certainly upwardly revises the asking price for Haren, but he’s still not likely to get anything near this kind of deal, and the Giants may have just saved the Mariners from getting guilted into making an overly large commitment for a pitcher with some real warts.
So, yeah, no Tim Lincecum in Seattle. At $35 million for two years, I think we can consider that good news.
This is something I saw. It’s not what’s important.
Lloyd McClendon, who interviewed with Mariners for managerial job last time around, is expected to be a candidate in Seattle again.
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) October 22, 2013
Rather, it got me thinking, and it got me thinking about this poll! This poll right here, asking for your mass participation!
This is rather bizarre, in a sense it’s a personal matter and tangential to the team itself, but at the same time it has potential implications for roster and clubhouse dynamics. The Seattle Times is reporting that Carlos Peguero’s wife (who is, incidentally, the daughter of Pedro Borbon, one of the let’s say more unusual characters in baseball history) has been charged in federal court with wire fraud based on alleged misuse of a debit card belonging to King Felix’s wife. Got that?
Okay, to begin with, innocent until proven guilty, let’s respect that. The charges are based on purchases made in 2012, although it’s not clear from the report when the issue was discovered. It’s before Felix signed his latest extension, although he was already making enough money that $180,000 from Saks could be overlooked. I’m sure he knows some of the dangers for people that wealthy in determining whom to trust, and has professionals managing his finances as the story indicates, but normally you would be most wary of outsiders trying to weasel in, not necessarily people already connected to the team. Being human, players can have their performance affected by family issues, not that Felix would likely ever admit to this as an excuse. Statistically, of course, it’s impossible to evaluate because you can’t verify or reconstruct many of the factors involved, but the impact is real enough to the person going through the experience.
Peguero has told investigators he didn’t know about the purchases. The presumption of innocence should hold up all the more so for someone not charged with any wrongdoing, so let’s take him at his word. It’s not out of the question that Felix might accept that too and they could coexist, men could be teammates and friends and many other things even when their wives don’t get along.
The team has declined to comment, as you might expect. We have no way of knowing how long they’ve been aware of the situation or what impact it might have on their decisions. Any fallout we might speculate about can just as easily have a much more straightforward explanation. We don’t know if they found out during spring training, or maybe after Peguero spent a week with the team in April, or much more recently. Despite the ongoing disasters in the outfield this past season, Peguero was not at any point the best available solution and overlooked. His lack of development means nothing seemed unusual when he didn’t return, even with expanded September rosters, and his performance at Tacoma never really demanded a callup. He’s now out of options and wasn’t likely to have a future with the team regardless. Perhaps Zduriencik moves on over the winter (he’d be a great candidate to follow Wladimir Balentien to Japan), or else he comes back in spring training for one last try, awkward though that may seem now.