Sunday, November 20, 2005

2005 AL West in review: Seattle Mariners

Here I offer the last in the four-part review of the 2005 AL West. We now have one kind of picture drawn of the division as we enter the high point of free agent negotiations and Hot Stove trade speculation.


I guess the real question to ask here is whether it is wise for the Mariners to think in terms of contending in 2006, or contending in 2007? The answer probably matters quite a bit in terms of what moves are and are not made this winter.

Seattle Mariners
69 – 93, 4th in AL West, 26.0 games back

699 Runs Scored
751 Runs Allowed

Pythagorean W-L Record: 76-86

Team Batting in the form of Player-Seasonal Notation (total team hitting stats divided by 9)

AB

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

BB

SO

SB

CS

BAVG

OBP

SLG

612

156

32

3

14

73

52

110

11

5

.256

.315

.391

Russ Adams, the Toronto shortstop, is a good match here; despite Big Sexy, the overall lineup reduced the Mariners to emulating Adams up and down the lineup. Every day.

Team Pitching in the form of Player-Seasonal Notation

Starter (average stats of top five starting pitchers)

W

L

IP

R

ER

ERA

H

K

BB

HR

8

11

168

99

95

5.10

192

88

57

22

Reliever (all other pitching stats divided by six)

W

L

SV

IP

R

ER

ERA

H

K

BB

HR

4

6

6

98

42

39

3.62

87

76

36

12

No individual better represents the Mariner pitching staff than their own Ryan Franklin.

Ownership

The group that owns the Mariners is headed by Nintendo, and the team’s chairman (and therefore the ownership group’s public face) is Howard Lincoln. Lincoln is continually bashed by local fans, particularly on the issue that he and the ownership group are not out to win championships but instead to make profit. A recent post by Derek Zumsteg at U.S.S. Mariner does a solid job of considering all of the relevant issues here, so I will not pile on. Whatever the status of ownership’s commitment to winning games vs. winning $money, it is the case that the Mariners rival the Angels as one of the two biggest-spending clubs in the division.

Last season, for instance, the payroll bill totaled $92.49 million, plus cash out for Jeff Cirillo ($4.78M), for a total of $97.27M. The Angels exceeded that total, but only by a small margin, while this represented half again more than either Oakland or Texas spent on players. $56.98 million are committed at this point for 2006 contracts (although some of that is residue of paying Big Sexy’s signing bonus in 2006…stupid accounting tricks), plus the near-major-league minimum salaries of as many as 14 additional players (at least $4.5 million), which leaves about ~$30 million if the team’s self-imposed salary cap is around $92 million. Cutting into that will be the somewhat inexplicable picking up of Guardado’s option, as well as arbitration-related raises, so figure closer to $20-$23M to spend on free agents.

Front Office

Bill Bavasi’s second year as Mariners GM turned out a bit different than his first year had; instead of Scott Spiezio and Eddie Guardado, the team added huge contracts for Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson last season. The difference might have been the departure of Pat Gillick looking over Bavasi’s shoulder.

Despite the change in observable player moves, though, the 2005 Mariners performed only moderately better on the field than had the 2004 version. The team has been changing rapidly, but still has big question marks—and it is up to Bavasi to answer the questions. What kind of rotation can we put together in 2006? Who will play left field? How long will it take Jeff Clement to reach the majors? Why can’t one of only two teams in the division sporting a $90 million payroll manage to win more than 69 games?

Manager

Mike Hargrove (signed through 2007). I like Hargrove better than Melvin, to be sure, but I fear that most of my belief in him as a manager stems from his top-5-all-time nickname. Put differently, if Bob Ferguson were resurrected and made manager of the M’s, his nickname would overshadow a great many sins.

Coaches

Pitching coach Bryan Price has departed to work with Bob Melvin and the hapless Arizona Diamondbacks.
Hitting coach Don Baylor has also been set free, er, “resigned.”

Carlos Garcia (third base coach)
Mike Goff (first base coach)
Ron Hassey (bench coach)
Jim Slaton (bullpen coach)
Rafael Chaves (pitching coach)
Jeff Pentland (hitting coach)

Pentland becomes our fifth hitting coach since the end of 2002 (Baylor succeeded Paul Molitor, who succeeded Lamar Johnson, who succeeded Gerald Perry). Yeesh. He comes from a stint with the Royals, so he’s back in the majors now. (Rim shot.)

Ballpark

Safeco Field. Look, if you didn’t sit through a few dozen games in the Kingdome watching the Mariners, I just don’t think you appreciate fully what you have. I finally (FINALLY) got to attend a game early in 2005 at the Safe, and…awesome!

The park also contributes quite a bit to roster construction and team performance decisions and analysis, since it plays substantially as a pitcher’s park. Well, that’s the story, anyway. Look at the hitting and pitching overall park factors since 2000, the first full season for the park: 91, 93, 92, 97, 92, 99/93, 94, 94, 98, 93, 99. That is, while it certainly helped pitchers and hurt hitters during its first three seasons, the park seems to have played closer to neutral for runs overall for two of the last three years. Like the Rangers field, nothing noteworthy about the configuration or climate of Safeco has changed in that span, so in general we still ought to think about the park as one that will depress hitting and help pitchers. But it sure didn’t look that way in the stats in 2003 or 2005. And this is WITH the Mariners’ pathetic offense generating half of the 2005 batting stats.

Defense

With a FIP slightly worse than the AL average, but a DER slightly better, the 2005 Mariner defense looks just about average. Superior defenders include Beltre at third, Ichiro! in rightfield, and Betancourt at shortstop. Lopez didn’t look bad at all at second base. Jeremy Reed was solid in center, and I never, ever, want to see Willie Bloomquist in center field again. Ever.

Defense for the team has been truly awesome in the past, and is now a pedestrian “above average.” It is therefore still a strength, particularly at certain positions, but nothing that will carry the team.

Pitching

The pitching staffs of the AL West clubs have made (Oakland) or broken (Texas) them. Seattle is in between the two extremes. On the one hand, all hail the King! Felix Hernandez burst onto the scene in 2005 as a teenager, and showed why he will lead the Mariners staff for as long as we can afford to keep him in Seattle. On the other hand: Ryan Franklin, 190 2/3 IP, 5.10 ERA. Yuck. Of the six pitchers who started at least 10 games for the 2005 Mariners, four of them had an Earned Run Average that began with the number 5.

Pitching is a priority for the team; Felix cannot pitch every day, and the other Seattle hurlers didn’t just have off years. That really IS how Ryan Franklin pitches. Pineiro’s velocity remained down all season; supposedly that improved in September, but that sounds a lot like the kind of email filling my junk mail folder these days. Meche is…broken. Honestly, our second-best starting pitcher was 42 years old in 2005. While we all know that 42 is the answer to the ultimate question, it should not be the answer to the somewhat lesser question of “what is the age of the Mariners’ second-best starting pitcher?”

Hitting

Meanwhile, the hitters disappointed a bit in 2005, led by big free agent signee Adrian Beltre. Solid seasons at the plate came from Big Sexy, Raul the Hat Man, and Ichiro!, who in a down year for him still turned in an above-average season. Otherwise, though, the hitting was SO bad that we got excited about Mike Morse (.278/.349/.370)…so excited that he has apparently worked his way into the future outfield rotation. An iron glove is not the best attribute for a shortstop, but away from the middle infield, Morse simply won’t hit enough in the majors to stick.

Check out these figures for OPS+ from the 2005 campaign (keeping in mind that this stat is OPS adjusted to the league, so that a 100 is league average, and lower numbers are worse): Willie Bloomquist: 66; Miguel Olivo: 17 (17!); Scott Spiezio: -23 (minus 23!!).

Chilling.

Aging

The tradeoff for young studs like King Felix and a 90-loss team SHOULD be that the Mariners are young. Except that they’re not. This is potentially a huge, huge problem. Bigger than the chip on Mike Morse’s shoulder, or the three million dollars we’ll pay Speez to just stay away from the team in 2006. Bigger than the pitching woes. The regular players under contract next season are predominantly past their prime baseball years.

Sexy will be 31 this season; Ichiro! will be 32; Ibanez 34. Eddie Guardado will reach 35. That was pretty much the solid core of the team in 2005 that led us to as many as 69 victories, and they can all be counted on for zero improvement, and likely a certain amount of collective decline.

On the upside, we have King Felix (20 in 2006); Adrian Beltre (27); Yuniesky Betancourt (24); and Jeremy Reed (25) all heading toward prime years. Moreover, youngsters like Jose Lopez (22) and Jeff Clement (23) could be ready for major league duty soon.

In short, between on-field deficiencies and the age structure of the team, Bavasi has his work cut out for him, big payroll or no.

Positions and Player Movement

Long-term Contracts
Seattle has the following contracts locked up for 2006:

Yuniesky Betancourt (weird deal through 2008, or 2007 if he’s eligible for arbitration after 2007)
Big Sexy (2008)
Adrian Beltre (2009)
Raul Ibanez (2006)
Eddie Guardado (2006)
Scott Spiezio (2006, but not with the team, thank God)
Ichiro! (2007)
Joel Pineiro (2006)

Not yet eligible for arbitration

Greg Dobbs
Jeff Harris
Felix Hernandez
Jose Lopez
Mike Morse
J.J. Putz
Jeremy Reed
Rene Rivera
George Sherrill
Jamal Strong
Matt Thornton

Arbitration-Eligible

Ryan Franklin
Gil Meche
Willie Bloomquist
Julio Mateo
Rafael Soriano
Yorvit Torrealba

Prospects

Mariners farmhands of note, according to minors guru and history major John Sickels, include a number of players who got time on the major league roster during the disaster that was 2005. King Felix, Jeremy Reed, and Yuniesky Betancourt saw significant time, while Shin-Soo Choo, Clint Nageotte, Jorge Campillo, and Chris Snelling might have if it weren’t for injury. The remaining members of the top 10:

SS Matt Tuiasasopo
LHP Ryan Feierabend

We should note that USSM’s minors guru, Dave Cameron, disagrees a bit about the top prospects on the farm. He likes Tui as a potential middle infielder several years from now, while he’s pretty low on Feierabend. He’s high on 2005 first-round draft pick Jeff Clement (catcher) and “OF” Adam Jones, and suggests that both of them probably need at least one more year in the minors.

All in all, we have probably gotten all the help we’re going to out of the minors for 2006.

Free Agents

Dave Hansen
Jamie Moyer
Jeff Nelson
Pokey Reese
Shigetoshi Hasegawa

Roster Construction

My best guess as to the makeup of the 2006 Mariners (as usual, including their 2005 stats and Win Shares/Win Shares Above Bench data from THT):

Pos

Player

2005 Major League Stats

Age

PA

BAVG/OBP/SLG

WS

WSAB

Starters

C

Yorvit Torrealba

26

217

234/297/338

2

-2

1b

Big Sexy

30

647

263/369/541

27

15

2b

Jose Lopez

21

196

247/282/379

5

2

3b

Adrian Beltre

26

641

255/303/413

14

3

SS

Yuniesky Betancourt

23

223

256/296/370

3

-1

LF

???

CF

*Jeremy Reed

24

536

254/322/352

10

0

RF

*Ichiro!

31

727

303/350/436

24

11

DH

*Raul Ibanez

33

685

280/355/436

19

8

Bench

C

Rene Rivera

21

49

396/408/521

2

1

IF

Willie Bloomquist

27

260

257/289/333

4

-1

IF/OF

Mike Morse

23

248

278/349/370

5

0

OF

Jamal Strong

26

22

250/333/350

1

0

H

*Greg Dobbs

26

151

248/288/331

2

0

(* = left handed hitter; # = switch hitter)

Starting Pitchers

Age

IP

ERA

WS

WSAB

RHP

Felix Hernandez

19

84.3

2.67

8

6

RHP

Gil Meche

26

143.3

5.09

5

0

RHP

Joel Pineiro

26

189

5.62

3

-3

RHP

Jeff Harris

30

53.7

4.19

2

1

RHP

???

Bullpen

LHP

Eddie Guardado

34

56.3

2.72

8

3

RHP

Julio Mateo

27

88.3

3.06

8

4

RHP

J.J. Putz

28

60

3.60

5

2

RHP

Rafael Soriano

25

7.3

2.45

1

0

LHP

Matt Thornton

28

57

5.21

1

-2

RHP

???

The Mariners MUST add one quality starting pitcher, and they continue talking publicly about adding “left-handed sock” in left field. How many years have we heard that refrain in the off-season?!

I would spend the cash necessary to bring in Burnett, realizing that not to be the safest nor consensus choice. Indeed, I would like to see money spent upgrading the rotation in the form of adding two pitchers (obviously you can’t get Burnett AND Millwood, but at least looking at some less expensive options to push one of Harris/Meche/Pineiro out of regular starting duties would be welcome.) I understand that there’s some sentiment to give Jamie Moyer another go-round at age 43. If it’s cheap, so be it, but we cannot really count on Moyer to improve the team, and improving should be what the Mariners are about right now.

I would like to see the M’s non-tender Franklin, and think about non-tendering Meche. We’re stuck with Pineiro’s contract for this season, but that is off the books after 2006, so one option would be to load up on payroll this season and then fall back into line with the budget next year. OK, OK, there’s no chance of that.

The bullpen opening can be filled in a variety of inexpensive ways, but left field and starting pitcher have to be priorities. Catcher is weak, but Clement might be ready in 2007, and I don’t see the point in blocking him with an aging Bengie Molina or Ramon Hernandez. Kenji Jojima might be interesting, and the Mariners have done what they can to improve the catching by pursuing him. The other two really interesting free agents are Jacque Jones and Rafael Furcal. Sure, Betancourt is good with the leather, but he hasn’t shown any ability to hit major league pitching, while Furcal would provide a number of things that the club lacks. Neither Jojima nor Furcal address the leftfield position, though, and no healthy player in the organization really fits there. Ibanez is a liability in the outfield.

If I am right in guessing that around $20-$23M is “free” this winter to pursue free agents, then inking Jojima and Moyer definitively precludes the signing of more than one big name FA (Burnett, Millwood, Furcal, etc.). Indeed, given the market for pitching right now, it is unlikely that we can afford two of the big names regardless. There have been rumors of various kinds of trades swirling about, but most of them are without substance, so feel free to imagine whatever scenario you like that fixes the team.

In any case, while this offseason might be quiet for the rest of the division, for the second year in a row Bill Bavasi will have some money to spend, and some needs to fill. Depending on how salaries play out, and what Lincoln and the team decide to do with the bankroll coming from the Nats sale, perhaps the big spending of last winter will not follow, but some player movement is required to field a competitive team.

To sum up: As much as I want to be optimistic, I’m afraid that 2006 looks pretty bleak for the Mariners, despite their payroll and the young talent on the team. Still, there are glimmers of hope. Not only can Bavasi take an active role in the free agent market, but key pieces of the team (most of the pitching staff, Beltre, etc.) performed at about the lowest possible level of quality imaginable last season. There is hardly anywhere to go but up. So regression to mean for this team means upward mobility. More importantly, despite the youth of King Felix, the team’s composition means that we must rebuild quickly or risk waiting a long time before the proper conjunction of talent comes along again. Now is the time to win, not to develop. This does not mean that 2006 must be measured by whether we win the division…because that seems like quite a task. However, if the Mariners cannot figure out how to pass the California teams in the West by 2007—a process whose remaining work must take place this winter—then Bavasi has utterly failed.

1 Comments:

At 3:46 PM, Blogger Blog World said...

A dying man needs to die, as a sleepy man needs to sleep, and there comes a time when it is wrong, as well as useless, to resist.
Stewart Alsop- Posters.

 

Post a Comment

<< Home