Saturday, October 28, 2006

M's Offseason Part 1: The Lineup

If the M's did nothing this offseason this would be your starting nine:

Player Pos 06 VORP 07 Salary
Ichiro CF 46.4 13,500,000
Ibanez LF 37.8 5,500,000
Sexson 1B 24.9 14,000,000
Johjima C 24.0 5,200,000
Beltre 3B 19.9 11,750,000
Lopez 2B 18.3 350,000
Broussard DH 16.7 ~5,000,000
Betancourt SS 13.6 400,000
Snelling RF 3.2 ~500,000

VORP is from Baseball Prospectus, salaries are from lots of disparate sources, Broussard and Snelling are arbitration eligible so I'm making educated guesses on them.

You'll need a 4th outfielder to spell Snelling, a righty masher to platoon with Broussard, but if they stand pat, that's the nine that'll be pencilled in most days. We know how the Human Brain Delay loves his set lineups.

The problem here is that while this lineup is not good enough to win, in my opinion, there is no obvious black hole to be filled. The worst hitter in the lineup is Betancourt and he's cheap and helps you with the glove. Lopez, Snelling are real cheap and Broussard is reasonably productive for his price(or at least he was in Cleveland, he actually has a negative VORP as a Mariner). Kenji and Ibanez are solid mid-level performers. Ichiro had a bit off an off year, but is still one of the top 20 or so players in the league.

The real problem is that two guys are being paid to be elite performers but are not giving you elite performance. Beltre was the 15th best 3rd baseman offensively in baseball. He's closer to Maicer Izturis than Troy Glaus. He got outhit by Rich Aurilla and Mark Teahen. Sexson was more productive, but still nowhere near what he's getting paid to do.

If you had 3 top tier players, 3 mid level guys and 3 decent cheap young players that would be a good offense. But when two of your top tier guys perform at mid-level or worse, its not enough. As Jason pointed out here, we've got about 200 runs to make up either on offense or defense and the free-agent pitcher market ain't going to get it done.

So I don't think the M's can stand pat, they have to improve the offense. How? If you can find a taker for Sexson or Beltre, you could then pursue a "Big Bat." Its possible to do it in one big deal. Would the Yankees take Beltre and Soriano for A-Rod? Or Sexson straight up for Sheffield (you push Snelling into left, Ibanez to DH and Broussard to first)? The Red Sox were willing to give Manny away a couple of years ago, what do they want for him now? Sexson and Reed maybe? Scott Rolen and Tony LaRussa don't get along, would the Cards take Beltre and something else for Rolen?

Or you could do it in two parts. Trade Sexson or Beltre for pitching or minor leaguers and then you can take on the salary to get a truly elite hitter. Say the Giants are interested in Sexson, you move him there and then sign an OF/1B/DH (Bonds? Carlos Lee? Soriano? I'm not recommending anyone, just throwing out names). You could also pursue trading for an elite player at one of your cheap positions (say you replace Betancourt with Miguel Tejada). Then Betancourt becomes a trading chip to acquire pitching or a cheap replacement for Beltre or Sexson.

There are lots of creative ways you could move Sexson or Beltre's salary and then add an impact hitter. I fear that Bavasi lacks that creativity. I suspect that he'll let the best free agents go and end up overpaying for some mediocre guy to take Snelling's regular lineup spot, leaving USS Mariner's favorite Aussie to be the fourth outfielder. Maybe you'd get lucky with that guy, but more than likely he'd give you Snelling's production for 10 times the price. And of course the worst case scenario is Carl Everett Part Deux.

Another mediocrity isn't going to get it done. The Mariners need a bold move to improve their chances of winning the West. Hoping that Adrian Beltre, MVP candidate or Richie Sexson, circa 2005 show up is a recipe for disaster. Of course I think we knew the 2007 season was going to be a disaster when they hung onto Grover.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Can you say "cheater," boys and girls?

You know, I had no particular esteem for Kenny Rogers, professional pitcher, before last night's game.

And yet his actions have caused me to lose even more regard for the man.

I have sat and read news stories, commentary, and reactions from all sorts of places today, and the more I read, the more I got angry.

No, I don't really care who wins the Series; I have no particular loyalty to or hatred of either team contending for the title. So I'm no Cards apologist trying to moan about the outcome of Game 2. But I do love the game of baseball, and cheaters like Kenny Rogers singlehandedly diminish the game itself.

Oh, sure, I've read observers saying that "well, his hand was clean from the second inning onward, and he was still really good." That, my three loyal readers, is NOT the point. Rogers cheated, he did so intentionally, and the results (or lack thereof) of his intentional cheating do not serve to condone his actions. The fact that the umpires failed to follow the clear mandate of the rulebook (Rogers should have been ejected immediately, with a suspension to follow, BY RULE) merely exacerbates the crime. That Tony LaRussa and his Cardinals players are saying nothing about the incident reflects something rotten in the state of baseball. Rogers's self-contradictory statements to the press after the game underscore the dual facts that A) he knew he was cheating, and B) he couldn't care less, except that it's embarrassing to have to be talking about it.

The culture in major league baseball (nay, all professional sports) to win "at all costs," and therefore to clap Mr. Rogers on the back in congratulations for his pine-tar-proven commitment to do anything it takes to win a championship, sickens me. Moreover, it indicates a pretty clear answer to the question of "how did steroids/performance-enhancing drugs become such a huge issue without anyone saying anything?"

We complain, sometimes, about "character" guys being brought to play for the Mariners without consideration of their potential contributions on the field. Most of the time, I minimize "intangibles," and "chemistry," and "fiery clubhouse leader" as GMspeak for "can't hit/pitch/field/all-of-the-above." This is not to say that I cannot recognize intangibles as valuable...just that I reject the premise that a GM can identify those and purchase them on the free agent market. But it is quite clear to me that cheating (in the same realm as betting on games) is an identifiable negative character trait that I'd like the M's to stay far, far away from.

The problem, of course, is that Kenny Rogers is clearly not the only cheater out there. If baseball culture condones certain kinds of "minor" cheating, such that the existing rules aren't enforced, then either the rules need to be changed to match current umpiring practices ("why don't you go wash your hands, Kenny"), or else players need to be held accountable. Another commentator today suggested that if a bat exploded into a whirlwind of cork during an at-bat, the penalty would be swift and severe. Why should we have different standards for pitchers? "Everybody's doing it?" Please. Kenny Rogers's utter lack of character and integrity does not rest on the actions of others.

Bud Selig, you've got another huge problem to deal with. My money's on "swept under the rug," but who knows--maybe the commisioner will exhibit some backbone. Like he's never cheated anyone in his previous business enterprises (used car sales, and stealing the Seattle Pilots from our fair city).


Friday, October 20, 2006

McLaren named bench coach

PI reports that Hargroan (don't like it? How bout The Human Brain Delay? Numbnuts?) has hired former M's bench coach John McLaren to reprise the role on the current M's club. In the article, John Hickey credits McLaren with with helping Lou Piniella relate to his players, being a go-between essentially.

It seems to me that Grover could use someone like that, given his two year long "misunderstanding" with Ichiro and tendency to, well, forget that certain players exist.

Apparently the M's stole him out from under Piniella's nose. McLaren has a long history with Lou and was offered a job on his new Cubs staff. McLaren said he took the M's job because he loved Seattle, but we all know that being the bench coach of a manager on a short leash is generally a pretty good spot to be in. Its no guarantee of anything of course, but that guy often ends up with the interim manager's job at the very least.

Here's hoping all of his dreams come true. Sooner rather than later if you know what I mean. I have no idea if he would be any better than Human Brain Delay, but he could hardly be worse.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Crewel to be Kind

As we knit away the cold that's blowing in with the leaves (sorry, outside the Northwest we have deciduous trees, etc.), I have been struck by the possible corollaries between the Mariners and the reborn, AL Champion, Tigers.

To be sure, I'm not the first baseball fan to entertain this idea. But the more I think about this, the more I'm convinced that the M's could, possibly, duplicate the successes in Motor City.

Now, I'm just ruminating here; the Fall Classic hasn't even got a losing National League team in it yet. More thoughtful, stat-filled posts will follow. But as Fall leads us into the cycle of death and rebirth over Winter and Spring, as we set to spinning and knitting during the post-harvest downtime on the farm (oh, wait...I'm not particularly rural. It's a METAPHOR, people), let's start thinking about the differences between the 2006 Mariners and the 2006 Champs.

From the top-down, team level, we find that the Mariners rank in the lower half of the AL in both hitting and pitching, while the Tigers are in the upper half. Specifically, the kitties scored runs at a 5.07 per game pace, good for 5th in the AL, while the M's tallied but 4.67 R/G, a tie for 12th with the powerhouse Kansas City Royals. Meanwhile, Detroit led the league in pitching, allowing only 4.17 R/G to their opponents, while Seattle came in 9th in that category by surrendering 4.89 R/G.

I know. You're thinking, "Hey, we're ONLY 0.4 R/G behind on offense, and ONLY 0.72 back in pitching. We're gonna win!" Before you get going too far on planning for a 2007 victory parade, let's have a reality check. The season is played over 162 games, which means that to catch Detroit, the Mariners would have to find a way to add about 65 runs on offense, keep the defense the same, AND pitch better to the tune of allowing over 116 fewer runs to the opponents.

OK, so it won't be easy. But it's not impossible, either. Other sites have hashed and rehashed the rebuilding of Detroit, and there are differing opinions about whether it was the hiring of curmudgeonly chain smoker Jim Leyland as manager, or the influx of youth on the Comerica mound, or the savvy addition of veterans like curmudgeonly cameraman-swatter Kenny Rogers, that were the "key" moves in the improbable reconstruction of the Tigers. The point is, though, that they did accomplish a quick turnaround (the team posted a 71-91 record in 2005). The M's are positioned to do exactly the same kind of thing.

[Editorial aside: no, Pollyanna has NOT replaced, abducted to a dolphin planet, or otherwise possessed the author.]

Havalook: We can expect that the Mariners' lineup is pretty much set, although some tinkering is possible. But that set lineup already reflects a fair amount of in-season tinkering, such that players like Chris "I've been on the DL so long I'm already nearing arbitration" Snelling can be expected to help add the missing 65 runs to an offense that not so long ago proudly sported a late-model Carl "I give Christianity a bad name" Everett. Or he could, if only drooling imbecile Mike Hargrove didn't have a raging man-crush on Willie Bloomquist (career, over 988 trips to the plate, every one carrying a stick: .257/.312/.329. Another way to put it: he has established himself to be worth TWENTY-SEVEN PERCENT worse than the AVERAGE major league hitter. In five seasons. Ggguh!).

I submit that we could really use some bench upgrades, but that with the current on-field manager, it would be foolish to bring in any "veteran" bats for the bench, since Grover would just start the bench guys over our young starters. But I digress.

Nahh, the offense is what it is. We live or die with Snelling and Benuardo instead of Reed and Everett, plus the odds that Raul Ibanez can keep his production somewhere between 2004 and 2005, and that Adrian Beltre's improvements at the plate can offset Raul's inevitable decline.
If that's not 65 runs, then we're adding to the burden of improving on the mound.

The good news is that our pitchers sucked ass for most of the season, so improvement is easy. Honestly, if we paid a diffenbachia the major league minimum, I'm pretty sure it could get out batters at the prodigious rate of a Joel Pineiro. (Don't laugh--I've seen diffenbachias exhibit WAY more toughness and character than I've ever seen from Gil Meche or Julio Mateo.) I expect that we've got 3 rotation spots to fill, either via free agency or from within. Felix and Washburn are the only givens, so we have a #3 and a #5 starter already, and need to fill 1, 2, and 4 in the pecking order. The bullpen is pretty well set, although there are some injury concerns with Soriano, and potentially Lowe.

So if in shifting from Meche, Pineiro, and Moyer/cast of thousands, to the 2007 solutions, we can save somewhere in the neighborhood of 120 runs (more is better, particularly because I'm loathe to count on too much offensive improvement), then the M's can contend for the AL West crown as early as 2007. 120 divided by three pitching slots is only (ONLY!) 40 runs per pitcher, which means we're talking about massive improvement here (For instance, to save 40 runs, Gil Meche would have had to post a 2.56 ERA instead of his 4.48 mark.) So that's not realistic. Except that it IS potentially within reach, since King Felix almost can't do any worse next year, so any runs he saves over 2006 (96 ER and a 4.52 ERA) will contribute to the needed pace.

Even so, mediocre starting pitchers won't make the grade. But who do we get? There is disagreement amongst bloggers and the media regarding how much cash the organization has to spend this offseason; I'm guessing about $22-24 million, personally, but in part that depends on stupid accounting tricks by the Mariners, and by the level of payroll they budget for this season. At current market prices, the FA market cannot yield three quality starting pitchers for that price. The big names are Jason Schmidt (local, once awesome, now a solid #2 type who will be 34 years old next season), Barry Zito (great curve, once won a Cy Young, will be 29 in 2007), and the soon-to-be-posted phenom Daisuke Matsuzaka (will be 27 in 2007). There are also wild and crazy rumors about other NPB hurlers, in particular Hiroki Kuroda. Lesser MLB free agents include pitchers like Tony Armas Jr., Miguel Batista, Bruce Chen, Adam Eaton, Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis, Joy Mays, Mark Mulder, Tomo Ohka, Ramon Ortiz, Vicente Padilla, Andy Pettitte, Mark Redman, Jeff Suppan, John Thomson, Jeff Weaver, Kip Wells, Randy Wolf, ...blech. It's no wonder that many expect Gil Meche (who's got his youth going for him, as he'll be only 29 in 2007) to cash in this year as a FA.

Internal options are one fewer since the M's gave up on Francisco Cruceta last week. We could try to resign Meche, but...why? The point is to get better, and I'm afraid that we've already gotten his peak performance. I'm happy to be wrong, but there's no way I take that gamble myself. Mark Lowe looked pretty dominant on the hill most of the time he was up, but then injury derailed the young man. Rafael Soriano was once viewed as a potential SP, but he has major injury history as well, making you wonder about the wisdom of ADDING to his pitching workload. Then there are minor leaguers like Bobby Livingston, Cha Seung Baek, and I suppose Jorge Campillo. As you might respond to Michael Feldman if you were in a crowd and he asked "Whaddya know?"..."Not much. You?"

I'll return in later weeks with some more statistical ammunition, but if the Tigers are our model, then Bill Bavasi has to hit some home runs in the roster construction arena this offseason. We won't settle, by the way, for just scraping by to win the West. The goal is the World Series. We have the resources, and even the offensive core and the bullpen to get there. Don't leave King Felix alone in the starting rotation as the only top-of-rotation caliber pitcher.

If none of that appeals to you, Bavasi, then think of it this way: only on a championship roster is there a really good place to carry Willie Bloomquist as a legitimate 25th man/pinch runner/last resort as defensive replacement/water boy. Think about it.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

One Pitch

I imagine that So Taguchi's 9th inning homer is getting most of the ink, but I find myself agreeing with John Kruk (Boy was that tough to type!), that the most important pitch of the game was thrown in the 7th inning.

Two on, two outs, Guillermo Mota facing Scott Spiezio. Mota gets ahead 0-2 with two straight change-ups. Speez swung at both of them, coming close on neither. Mota then throws a fastball that Spiezio just crushes, but foul.

I've never pitched, not even in Little League, so I don't know jack about pitch selection. And I'm sure that, with the exception of Jamie Moyer, its pretty tough to keep throwing change-up after change-up. But given the choice between the pitch he hit hard and the pitch he looked foolish on, I'm going with something off-speed there. You are still ahead 0-2, if you want to set up a change up with a fastball out of the zone, you could do that too.

Mota puts another fastball over the plate and Speez crushes it for a two-run triple. Tie ball game and the stage is set for the Cards ninth inning rally.

The biggest pitch of the game and I can't for the life of me figure out why Mota threw it.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The day in quotes

Some Great Comedy Lines delivered during today's playoffs:

Lou Piniella on expecting Marco Scutaro to continue to hit like he did in the division series:

"That'd be like finding a wallet on Friday night and looking for another one on Saturday and Sunday."

Steve Lyons, after Lou later used Spanish on the broadcast:

"Lou's hablaing Espanol and I still can't find my wallet. Not only do I not understand him, I don't want to sit too close to him right now."

EDITED TO ADD: Fox apparently fired Lyons for his comments. Whoops.

D-Backs OF Eric Byrnes, asked by Jeanne Zelasko what to call Scott Spiezio's odd, overly long soul patch:

"I call it The Tickler."

Finally not really from today, but damn funny.
Chad Johnson, from an ESPN commercial where Stuart Scott pitches him a touchdown celebration ending with Stu's catchphrase, "Boo-yeah!":

"Uhhhh, Boo-no."

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Division playoffs Day 4

A's 8, Twins 3. Hey! Billy Beane's shit does work in the playoffs every so often! At least we can put that particular bit of bullshit to rest. The Twins picked a terrible time to stop playing defense didn't they? They looked terrible the whole series and Morneau's gaffe in the 7th that led to 4 runs was almost as costly as Torii Hunter's ill-timed dive on Wednesday. Hunter also made a base-running error in the 6th as het got tagged out at the plate with only one out. Replays showed that Hunter may have beaten the tag, but here's the thing on tag plays. If the throw beats you, you are probably out. I think thats the hardest call for the umpire to see when the tag is applied and when the runner touches the plate. If the throw beats you, and it did beat Hunter, you are usually out. And its a terrible play by Hunter to get thrown out there. You are down two runs, the out is worth more than the run at that point. Finally, although as a fan, it was compelling to see Brad Radke out there gutting it out on his shredded shoulder, I can't help but wonder if Gardenhire wouldn't have been better off starting, you know, someone whole.

Tigers 6, Yankees 0. Wow! Think Kenny Rogers was a little pumped up? Holy crap! The Detroit crowd was pretty into it too. Great day to be an anti-Yankee rooter, for sure. The "Greatest Lineup Ever" got 5 hits and 2 walks while striking out 9 times. Whee! Of course it was really only the "2nd Greatest Lineup Ever," since Torre inexplicably benched Sheffield for Bernie Williams. Cleanup hitter one day, on the bench the next. And now the Yankees get to pitch Jaret Wright in an elimination game. Sweet.

Friday, October 06, 2006


Wait, you're saying, Bob Finnegan retired! Tad's not really going to do a post about A-Rod coming back is he? Is he?

Yes, yes I am.

I have heard 3 different talking heads say that if Alex doesn't play well in this post-season, the Yankees will try and trade him in in the offseason. Now we know that is crazy, just idiot former players trying to sound relevant and all, but what if it isn't? Here's what Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said about A-Rod after Thursday's game:

"I didn't like him that well."

If there is any chance that the Yankees would try and trade Alex this off-season, I want Bavasi at the front of the line. The average A-Rod season: 305/386/573 with 42 homers. Adrian Beltre has had exactly one season better than that. One. And he's not having another one. I would send AB and a couple of relievers to the Yankees in a heartbeat. I would call Yankees GM Brian Cashman so often, he would consider a restraining order against me.

If he's not available so be it, but if he is, we need to make a serious run at him. Outside of King Felix, everyone is on the table. Everyone.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Division Playoffs Day 3

Some quick hit thoughts on today's playoff action:

Tigers 4, Yankees 3. Verlander struggled all day but only got hurt by the fastball he didn't get far enough inside to Damon. Zumaya's stuff is just sick. I can't think of another pitcher who could just blow fastballs by Jeter, Sheffield, Abreu, Giambi and A-Rod. Just sick. Yankee fans booed A-Rod in his last two at-bats, it was amazing. Mussina also pitched pretty well but 5 of his 8 hits were for extra bases. I loved that Leyland went and got Verlander with a 1-1 count. He told reporters afterwards, "I just didn't like the fastball before that." Can you imagine Grover doing that? Me neither.

Cardinals 2, Padres 0. Orel Hershiser is quickly becoming one of my favorite analysts and Berman was pretty restrained today, especially compared to Tuesday. When the Padres got men on in the 5th and the 6th and couldn't plate them Orel pointed out that it was a pretty big deal even though it was only a 2 run lead, because the shadows that cross home plate in the afternoon were about to take effect and runs were going to be tough to come by. Neither team has scored after the 6th in either game, so he was spot on there. Its sure painful to watch LaRussa manage especially with a off day coming up. 4 pitching changes in 2 innings at one point.

Mets 4, Dodgers 1. The Dodgers look completely overmatched in this series. They looked sloppy defensively and just out of sorts at the plate. Glavine didn't seem to have anything special tonight, but LA never seemed that close. In the bottom of the 4th, you really saw why Shea is such a pitchers park. Cliff Floyd absolutely crushed a ball that just died at the warning track. I thought it was an upper deck shot when he hit it. I'm looking forward to seeing Maddux pitch on Saturday.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

On Hargrove

First off: Sorry for the lack of posts to the site in the last 3 weeks. I have been fighting what turned out to be a ruptured disc in my lower back and had surgery on Monday to correct the problem. Two days post surgery, I feel better than I have in a month. Yay modern medicine.

Thanks to my sister-in-law's laptop (thanks again Jackie!) poised precariously on my stomach, I am back to blogging. And where better to jump back in, then the absolutely ludicrous decision to retain Hargrove.

It would be hard to top Jason's excellent piece (and especially his title!) so I would like to focus on just one part of the infamous letter to the season ticket holders:

Mike is uniquely equipped to lead a young team. His experience in developing and dealing with young players is one of the reasons we hired him in the first place.

Hargrove is not uniquely equipped to lead a young team. He gets this reputation because his Cleveland teams broke in a number of good young players. But, to be clear, by his first full season in 1992, Lofton, Belle and Nagy are stars already, with Sandy Alomar an established regular, if not quite an All-Star. In 1994 he gives more at-bats to 33 year old Junior Ortiz than Alomar. Ortiz hit 221/267/273 in 249 at-bats. All Alomar did was hit 270/318/395. Great job breaking in the youngster, there.

Also, Grover gave Alvaro Espinoza 263 at-bats to put up a 678 OPS. He could not find a spot in the lineup for Jim Thome (OPS 859 in limited playing time). Even the next year he still found 231 at-bats for Espinoza, though he at least got Thome 321.

Also in 1994 he gave Jack Morris 23 starts (it was a strike year) at a 5.60 ERA but Albie Lopez only 4 starts at a 4.24 ERA.

Even this year we saw him play Carl Everett at the expense of anyone else younger or better on the roster. He gave up on Adam Jones after 10 games. He had trouble finding playing time for Sexson as a young player in Cleveland and Brian Giles. He often prefers veterans over young players and his preference for "set lineups" keeps young players from getting into the lineup.

He did give immediate playing time to Bartolo Colon and Manny Ramirez when they came up, but these are MVP/Cy Young type talents. It would have been pretty hard to deny them, although he certainly did with Thome.

He had great talent in Cleveland and won there, though he was fired for not winning more. He was 275-372 with young talent in Baltimore and he is 147-177 here in Seattle. If you see a guy in there "uniquely qualified" to do anything other than play with his grandkids I think its time to have your prescription checked.