Wednesday, November 22, 2006

M's Offseason Part 2: The Rotation

It took a while to get to this post, but that's okay the Mariners haven't done anything. Part of the reason I wanted the M's to get a bat (see Part 1), is that I don' t think there is any way to reliably turn the M's rotation into a real strength. If the M's did nothing, their rotation would look like this:

1. Felix Hernandez
2. Jarrod Washburn
3. Cha Seung Baek
4 and 5. Two from among this group: Feirabend, Blackley, Lowe, Woods.

Yuk. Obviously they will do something.

Conventional wisdom has them going after one of the two big names on the Free Agent market: Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt. Lets look at each one of those guys.

Zito is a guy who gives up a fair amount of homeruns (better than 1 per nine in the last three years) and whose K's per nine is in decline over the last three years (6.88,6.75,6.14) while his walks per nine has been going up over the same period (3.42,3.51,4.03). His ERA has been consistently better than league average over his career and his ERA+ has been a solid 116 for the last two years. He is only 28 so he would seem to have a few solid years left in him, but if his peripherals continue to regress he's going to go south fast. Not too many guys succeed striking out 5 per nine while walking 5 on the other side.

Schmidt's peripherals are better across the board, but declining more sharply. Homers per nine over the last three years: 0.72, 0.83, 0.88, K's have gone from 10 to 8.6 to 7.6, walks from 3.08 to 4.44 to 3.38. In particular he's losing strikeouts fast and he'll be 34 when he starts this contract.

Both of these guys are good, absolutely. But if you sign Schmidt to a 5 year deal you are going to be stuck with him through age 39. Sure there are some guys recently who have been effective at that age (Clemens, Schilling, Randy, Moyer) but lots more who weren't. If you could sign either of these two to a 3 year deal, that would be a good gamble, even if you overpaid a little bit, but they are both almost certainly going to get 5 year deals and if you over pay in a 5 year deal, that's a killer.

The second tier of free agents doesn't impress me much. Ted Lilly, Jeff Suppan, Jeff Weaver, all are going to overpaid and I'd rather overpay for someone good, than over pay for a mediocrity. Yes, I'm looking at you Washburn! Maddux might be interesting on a one year deal as would Mulder.

If we can't get one of the top two guys and we've already passed on Matsuzake, then where are we going to get pitching? You can certainly explore the trade market. I have no idea who is available, but you've got a few bullets to trade from the pen and Reed seems expendable at this point too. If you sign a big bat, that would give you someone else to trade, I'm pretty sure there is a market for Sexson and Beltre if you wanted to go that way. Can you pick up an ace in trade? Probably not. But you might find a solid 2/3 guy, hopefully making reasonable money.

After that you are dumpster diving. Taking one year flyers on guys or spring training NRIs and hoping they pan out. Bruce Chen, Mark Redman, Kip Wells, John Thomson, Tomo Okha, Steve Trachsel, guys like these should be available for affordable, if not quite rock-bottom prices.

So, what's a pitching starved team to do? Throw 75 million at Zito? I'd rather someone else be stuck with that contract. If you could get Schimdt at 3/36 I'd do that, but it'll probably take a lot more. I'm back them to my original proposition. Trade for an innings eater, sign a few of the bottom feeders and spend the money on offense. Its safer and there seems to be more out there.


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