Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sources report: it's done

Adam Jones leaving winter ball in Venezuela, reportedly to take his physical, and is quoted in the referenced article that Bavasi informed him of the trade.

Media reports leaking out about a deal, including on and in The Seattle Times.

The trade has been completed. Adam Jones, the M's prized rookie right fielder, is heading to Baltimore as the centerpiece of a deal between the Mariners and Orioles which likely also includes reliever George Sherrill and prospect Chris Tillman, with perhaps one more minor leaguer as part of the exchange.

Let me say this, right off the bat: the Mariners may now have the best pitching staff, top to bottom, in the American League. Bedard, King Felix, Silva, Batista and Chris Washburn makes for one hell of a starting five. Buh-bye, Jeff Weaver and take a seat, Horacio Ramirez. Meanwhile, the bullpen (although weakened) includes Putz, Morrow, Green, O'Flaherty, Rowland-Smith, White, and baseball's most expensive long reliever, Ho-Ram. In combination, it appears to exceed the staffs of the Angels, Indians, Red Sox, and every other contender in the American League. At the very least, it's right up there with them.

That's the good news.

The bad news is this: the Mariners' oddly-constructed, ill-fitted, station-to-station offense appears to have become even weaker with the defection of steroid boy Guillen, the loss of minor league stud Jones and the trade of Ben Broussard. Sure, Jones was completely unproven at this level. Without question, Guillen was a cheater dogged with character issues. Certainly, Broussard was part of the DH/1B logjam that characterized the Mariners, circa 2007. Regardless, Seattle's middle-of-the-pack offense (7th in the A.L. in runs scored in 2007) has taken several steps backwards this winter. Whatever scrub or relic they dust off to play right field this year cannot replace what's been lost.

We hear one constant uttered in low, rumbling tones in almost every sport, so often that we almost intrinsically believe it must be true: defense wins ballgames. It's said about football, basketball - heck, even hockey - and definitely about baseball. But is it true?

Based upon empirical evidence, I think the best response is an unqualified not necessarily.

Toronto had the A.L.'s 2nd lowest ERA and 8th best fielding percentage in 2007, yet finished a distant 3rd in their division and won just 83 games. Minnesota had the league's 4th lowest ERA and 9th best fielding percentage but finished under .500. Meanwhile, the Yankees had a team ERA worse than both of them and a fielding percentage lower than the Mariners and won 94 games. Scoring 968 runs did the trick. Toronto's 753 runs scored doomed them to mediocrity, as did Minnesota's 718.

The M's are going to have to score runs this year if they hope to have any realistic chance to overtake the Angels. Period. Ichiro, Beltre and Ibanez are good starts and should outperform the averages at their respective positions once again this year. Betancourt doesn't add a ton of offense, but he's also a plus offensive player, as it Johjima. Lopez appears to be a slight minus. It's the black holes at 1B, RF and DH that are going to kill this club if Sexon cannot bounce back in a big way, a suitable replacement isn't found for Guillen-turned-into-Jones and the world's most expensive singles hitter without speed remains, well, similarly limited. Having 1/3 of your projected day-to-day offensive players qualifying as huge minuses just doesn't portend well for an offense that isn't particularly impressive anyway.

I'll reserve judgment on this deal until after the team solves the gaping hole in RF. I fear that 100-year old Luis Gonzalez is heading this way. Yippee!


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