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M's In the 2000s: A Series of Fun Facts

Everyone has some sort of decade in review of their own. Time to add mine to the masses. Staying true to this blog's title, this post is a true Mariners musing. Here is a review of the decade that was for the Seattle Mariners, in a series of fun facts:
  • Average regular season record (rounded to the nearest win) in the decade: 84-78
  • 9-10 record in postseason games in the decade
  • Three general managers and five managers in the decade
  • Two Rookies of the Year (Kazuhiro Sasaki in 2000, and Ichiro in 2001)
  • One MVP (Ichiro in 2001)
  • One Manager of the Year (Lou Piniella in 2001)
  • One All-Star Game hosted (2001)
  • No Cy Young awards or World Championships
Here are some fun facts about the hitters:
  • Ichiro played the most games (1,426). Raul Ibanez played the second most (847).
  • Ichiro had the most hits of any Mariner in the decade with 2,030. Not a big surprise. What's incredible is that he had almost 400 more than #2 and #3 combined.
  • Ichiro had more intentional walks (142) than #2 through #4 combined (130)
  • Ichiro had more triples (68) than #2 through #5 combined (67)
  • Ichiro had more steals (341) than #2 through #5 combined (325)
  • Ichiro also led the team in at-bats, plate appearances, runs, doubles, and hit-by-pitches
  • Most RBIs in the decade? That's Ichiro too, with 515.
  • Bret Boone hit more home runs than any other Mariner in the decade (127)
  • Dan Wilson had more sacrifice hits (a.k.a. successful bunts) than any other Mariner (37)
  • Mike Cameron struck out the most times (601)
  • John Olerud drew the most walks (418), had the most sacrifice flies (36), and grounded into the most double plays (83)
The pitchers aren't quite as fun to look at as the hitters. Their biggest problem is that none of them are Ichiro:
  • Jamie Moyer had the most wins (93), complete games (10), and innings pitched (1,371.1)
  • Arthur Rhodes made the most pitching appearances (312)
  • Aaron Sele pitched more complete game shutouts (4) than any other M's starter this decade
  • Kazuhiro Sasaki notched the most saves (129), though J.J. Putz finished the most games (207)
  • Felix Hernandez struck out more batters (810) and threw more wild pitches (46) than any other Mariner
  • Ryan Franklin balked the most (six times)
Finally, my personal favorite, which is hard to believe but true...
  • Ken Griffey Jr. started and ended the decade a Seattle Mariner
Weren't those fun? They were definitely facts.

Morrow Deal Official

Brandon MorrowBrandon Morrow is now property of the Toronto Blue Jays, in exchange for RP Brandon League and OF Johermyn Chavez.

First, let's take a look at what the M's acquired. League features a power sinker, which he uses to induce mostly ground balls and swings and misses. His ERA was a bit high this past season, but there is every reason to believe that is due mostly to bad luck. Brandon adds nice depth to the back end of the M's bullpen.

Johermyn Chavez is a shot in the dark. I will take him over the originally rumored prospect, JP Arencibia, but I am not in love with him. I will say that Chavez is a right-handed bat with power, or in other words, the kind of hitter that isn't likely to ever come to Safeco Field in free agency. However, Chavez went from a sub-.600 OPS in low A two years ago to one over .800 last year. Did he find something, or have a fluke year? Nobody knows, but it's easy to guess what the M's think (or hope). Here is more on him, if you are interested.

The real question is what the Mariners gave up. Like many that first saw this deal, I did not like it. I am still not sure I like it, though I think part of the problem is just how awesome all of Z's deals have been. All of them have had virtually no risk with good to great rewards. This trade, on the other hand, could look bad. Will it though?

Brandon Morrow's biggest problem is consistency. On one night, he looks unhittable, while on others he can't throw a strike. If he ever irons out those issues, and errs more on the side of unhittable, he will be great. If that happens, this deal looks awful for the Mariners. However, if Morrow stays inconsistent, the trade does not look bad at all. Personally, I prefer someone consistently good over a boom-or-bust type.

For a little anecdotal insight, I migrated to Baseball Reference, and checked out the 10 pitchers most like Brandon Morrow through 24 years old (his current age) in MLB history. Here is the list:
  • Jim Hannon
  • Joe Kerrigan
  • Justin Masterson
  • Terry Adams
  • Dickie Noles
  • Bill Caudill
  • Johnny Ruffin
  • Joey McLaughlin
  • Ramon Monzant
  • Danys Baez
Not exactly a who's who of former all-stars. There are some solid players in that bunch, but nobody that was a real top-of-the-rotation kind of talent (though in fairness we don't know what Justin Masterson will become).

Meanwhile, if you are wondering like I was, here are the pitchers most similar to Brandon League at his current age (26 years old):
  • Tony Pena
  • Mark Lowe
  • Rick Camp
  • John Boozer
  • Darren Holmes
  • Huck Betts
  • Keith Foulke
  • Matt Whiteside
  • Bo McLaughlin
  • Matt Belisle
Not exactly a list of legends, but arguably better than Morrow's. Keith Foulke is probably the most accomplished pitcher on either list.

Brandon Morrow could become a great pitcher. He has the stuff, and we all know Bill Bavasi and friends did him no favors with the way they "developed" him. Morrow seems poised to figure some things out and iron out some of his consistency issues.

However, Morrow could be the next Terry Adams. He had a pretty good arm, and a couple good years, and even bounced between the bullpen and rotation for a few years in his career.

Brandon could also be the next Danys Baez. He had a great arm, flashed potential as a reliever, then was tried as a starter, and is now a guy that bounces from bullpen to bullpen.

History tells us that the Mariners probably did not trade a future star. It could happen, but I am not sure any of us would be up in arms if we just traded our generation's Jim Hannon.

Jack Zduriencik did not get fleeced. We can blame Bill Bavasi for another underwhelming draft pick. Or, we can blame him for terrible mismanagement of Morrow's development. Either way, this trade should be lopsided in Toronto's favor, but it is not.

2009 Offseason Plan (v2.0)

The time has come for a revised off-season plan. You can check out my first here. It came before the M's had made any moves. Obviously, much has changed between then and now, most notably the stunning deals for Cliff Lee and Milton Bradley. Here is what I'd be doing now, in order of priority:
  1. One more bat - I think packaging Brandon Morrow and Jose Lopez could bring in a quality hitter. I'd have to figure out who, but that is who I would offer. That would leave a hole at second base, but that can be filled in free agency by a guy like Kelly Johnson, Orlando Hudson, or Felipe Lopez. One alternative to this I would look at is signing Jason Bay. I would offer 3 years, $30 million or so with a vesting option for a 4th year, and if that's enough, I'd be happy to have him. That clearly would not have been at the start of the off-season, but the climate has changed. If Bay really wants to be a Mariner, that might be enough. We could at least find out. If neither a trade nor Bay pan out, I'd secure Russell Branyan.
  2. One more dependable starter - The M's are more then set at the top with Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee. What would be ideal is to find another dependable guy to go with Ryan Rowland-Smith. Someone who will throw a solid six innings on a consistent basis. If you are looking for an intriguing free agent name, there is Randy Johnson. More realistic free agent targets are Jarrod Washburn, Jon Garland, Doug Davis, and Joel Pineiro. Of the bunch, I probably like Garland best, though the price for Washburn might be right. I am not sure there is a logical guy to trade for out there.
  3. Sign Felix Hernandez to a long-term deal - The King likes Seattle right now, and he should only like it even more with the way the off-season has gone. Also, he won't earn as much money in arbitration as he would in a contract extension, and all of a sudden that couple million saved might be worth placing towards a different piece of the puzzle. The M's look like an 85-88 win team on paper right now. Another four victories or so, and they go from probably on the outside of the playoffs to probably in. In other words, the Mariners are right in the vicinity where spending money even on rather small improvements is well worth it. That was not the case at the start of the off-season. Felix can wait at least until possible free-agent fits are no longer available. Still, the fact remains that Felix is an integral part of this team's long-term future.
  4. Sign some catchers to minor league deals - They already have Eliezer Alfonzo, but I want more. Sign as many as possible, and keep the best ones.  That's how I prefer to use the minor league free agent process.
The best-case scenario is a trade that brings in a cost-effective player. However, there are free agents out there that make the 2010 Mariners a playoff contender, especially if the Angels continue to get shut out of major aquisitions.

Looking at the free agent options I suggested in this plan, it may take $15-$20 million to secure all the pieces. That is probably more than the M's have to play with. I would be interested to see if ownership is willing to go over payroll. I would push for that with this team, because they are at a point where one player might be the difference between going to the playoffs or not. That, by itself, is remarkable, especially given where this team was about 15 months ago.

UPDATE (9:14 PM) - The plan is already blown. Looks like Brandon Morrow is going to Toronto for Brandon League and a prospect. Interested to hear details, but clearly he is no centerpiece of a deal for a hitter.

UPDATE (9:28 PM) - As of now, it's looking like the prospect is C J.P. Arencibia. There goes my idea of adding minor league catchers too. I should stop trying to make up off-season plans. This deal, whoever is involved, is post-worthy.

A Combustible Clubhouse?

Milton BradleyThe only thing that might stop Jack Zduriencik from making a deal on Christmas day are all the other GMs stopping to open their stockings. As if Cliff Lee wasn't enough this week, he flipped Carlos Silva to the Cubs for Milton Bradley.

On paper, the deal is miraculous. Bradley had a down year in 2009, but draws walks at prolific rates, and has proven over the course of his career that he can hit. If healthy and happy, Bradley is a legitimate force in the middle of the M's lineup.

Over the course of Bradley's career, those health and happiness have been huge ifs though. It's hard to forget when he tore his ACL in San Diego as he was restrained by manager Bud Black from going after an umpire. Even a person who does not value clubhouse chemistry at all would be worried about Bradley's attitude. He is about as combustible as they come.

On top of that, it has become clear that Cliff Lee was surprised by the trade. It is just as clear that he really liked Philadelphia, and wanted to stay there.

So, did the Mariners just add a disgruntled pitcher, itching to leave at the end of the season, and couple him with the biggest clubhouse cancer baseball has seen in a long time? Or, have they added two key pieces they can ride all the way to October?

There is a case to be made for both scenarios. For now, I'm inclined to believe the latter. Here's why.

First of all, why wouldn't Cliff Lee be disappointed in the trade? He just went to the World Series with Philadelphia, after being on an Indians team that was going nowhere. Then, the Phillies approached about a contract extension. He had his eyes set on many deep October runs in Philadelphia.

All of sudden, Lee is shipped to the farthest outpost in Major League Baseball. He doesn't know much about Seattle, as he has said. What he knows is that he is leaving a situation he liked a bunch.

That's what I've heard with Cliff Lee's remarks. He hasn't said much about Seattle. What he has expressed is how much he liked Philadelphia, and he wouldn't have chosen to leave. That makes perfect sense.

There is ample room for Lee to like Seattle, especially if the team wins. That's no guarantee that he will stay, but there is a distinct possibility that he could. Everyone, including Cliff Lee, will get a feel for those odds as the season unfolds.

Even if Lee hates Seattle, he is a true professional, and is a season away from a big pay day in free agency. Lee will perform to the best of his ability no matter his feelings about the city and situation. I am not worried about him.

Milton Bradley, on the other hand, is a well-documented problem in lots of the places he has gone. He seems quite mercurial and volatile, to the point that nobody probably has a true idea what he will do.

We do know this though. The M's coaching staff features a couple people who worked with Bradley when he was in Oakland and Texas, the two places he did not really cause problems. Jack Zduriencik also says that Bradley is very excited to be in Seattle. All indications are that Bradley will walk into a clubhouse excited to have him, and a situation he is excited to be in. The relationship will get off to a mutually good start. I think most places Bradley has gone, he has been met with reservation (and probably for good reason). However, that only seems to feed Bradley's problems.

Milton will probably be high maintenance, but the Mariners are loaded with guys capable and willing to do what it takes to keep him in good spirits. There are legitimate reasons to believe that Bradley will be happy and productive with the Mariners. Again, that's no guarantee, but a whole bunch better than hoping for lightning in a bottle.

Not that trading Carlos Silva for a shot in the dark would have been a bad idea. He had no spot on the Mariners. Milton Bradley could be a very useful player. Still, it is alarming that Bradley's personality was deemed so destructive by the Cubs that they were willing to ship him away straight up for arguably the worst contract in all of baseball right now.

We will find out how it plays out. At this point, is there a more intriguing team heading into 2010 than the Seattle Mariners? Between Lee and Bradley, this team went from a nice story, to a developing story, to maybe THE biggest story (Yankees and Red Sox not withstanding, of course). Hopefully it's one with a happy ending.

Jack Z Is Santa Claus

Jack ZduriencikIt's official. Cliff Lee is coming to the Mariners in exchange for Phillipe Aumont, Tyson Gillies, and JC Ramirez. Interestingly, the Halladay deal is yet to officially be announced. Small roll of the dice by the Phillies (seems to indicate to me that the rumored failed physical might be holding things up a little). That also puts to rest any other pieces coming to the Mariners.

Not that anyone could ask for anything else. Cliff Lee is a gift that will keep on giving.

The more I've thought about the deal, Jack Zduriencik is Santa Claus. This is the perfect gift to all Mariners fans. Who would be better to get?

John Lackey? No way. He's not as good as Cliff Lee, and costs about $8 million more per year.

Jason Bay? Not a chance. He's also more expensive, and his best attribute (power) is likely to decay in the near future, and will be swallowed up by Safeco's spacious left field.

Matt Holliday? Maybe...but he would be so expensive, and he struggled in his short stint in the AL. I'm willing to gamble that it was a bit of an aberration, but why gamble when you can get someone who won the AL Cy Young only two years ago, and far from struggled last year?

Merry Christmas to all, and have a good night.

However, while all of us have visions of Cy Youngs in our heads, Santa Claus will be hard at work. There are 12 days to Christmas, after all.

I'm going to put this out there right now. Adrian Gonzalez rumors to the Red Sox are heating up. However, Larry Stone tweeted that the M's "won't let him go without a fight." A couple weeks ago, Shannon Drayer wrote a blog post about how the M's and Padres match up. The centerpieces to a potential Adrian Gonzalez deal? Brandon Morrow and Jose Lopez. They are still around. So are Michael Saunders and Carlos Triunfel.

How would Adrian Gonzalez look batting behind Ichiro and Chone Figgins? That's a "what if" that would keep me up all night if I weren't already up psyched out of my mind for Cliff Lee.

Maybe he is the one guy that would be a better gift than Lee. I want to have that debate over which player is a better acquisition for the M's. That would be a nice "problem" to have.

Santa Claus has come to town.

The Biggest Trade In Mariners History

Cliff LeeThe Cliff Lee deal is probably hours away from being official. Word this morning is that somebody failed their physical (perhaps Aumont?), so maybe I am jumping the gun. I'll cross my fingers and say the deal still gets done somehow.

As of yesterday, there were still whispers of someone besides Lee coming to the Mariners, so perhaps we do not know all the details quite yet. Still, it's obvious that Cliff Lee is the centerpiece coming to Seattle, and Phillipe Aumont, Tyson Gillies, and JC Ramirez is the price the M's paid.

There's that whole Roy Halladay end to the trade too. That's kind of a big deal.

There are also reports that Michael Taylor will go to the A's for Brett Wallace, once Taylor officially goes to the Blue Jays in the impending blockbuster Lee-Halladay blockbuster duel deals.

As of now, including that aforementioned A's-'Jays side deal, four teams and nine players are involved at the least. It is a complex deal, and rather than go through the entire thing, I'll stick to this blog's title and muse about the Mariners.

The players the M's gave up, although young prospects, are guys we've heard about. Gillies was in the Futures game over the summer, and so many (including me) have written about him. He has tremendous speed, and coaches say power will start to pop through. Aumont has been on the radar ever since the M's made him their first round draft pick a couple years ago. As we saw in the World Baseball Classic, he has the kind of stuff to make guys like David Wright look completely overmatched. However, he does not have the control to do that on a consistent basis, as evidence by struggles in AA and the Arizona Fall League.

JC Ramirez (also known as Juan Ramirez) is an interesting third prospect in the deal. Scouts universally rave about his stuff and his mental make-up. Although I'm yet to see him, it seems that he looks like a top-of-the-rotation starter in the making. The catch is that his production is yet to match that potential, and he is on the verge of AA. Ramirez is still young, and I respect scout evaluations. However, prospects destined to be impact MLB players tend to "out-talent" others in low-level minor leagues, in my experience. Whatever flaws they have can't be exposed by the level of talent. That's not the case with Ramirez, though he has had flashes of brilliance.

Do I really have to say much about who the M's are getting? Cliff Lee is awesome. We saw him own the Yankees in the World Series. That's Lee at his finest. He is durable, he is a workhorse, and he is unflappable. He's worth at least double his $9 million salary in 2010. Lee also only has only one year left on his deal though.

I am still in shock about this deal. It's a total steal for the Mariners. Aumont is nice, but the M's have other power bullpen arms. David Aardsma isn't going anywhere for a few years (provided he stays as effective as he was). Mark Lowe is young too, and Josh Fields was in AA and the Fall League along with Aumont, and outperformed him at both levels. Aumont is a talented young pitcher, but redundant.

Lots of the same can be said about Tyson Gillies. I'm sad to see him leave, but Michael Saunders has already made the majors, Ezequiel Carrera should be in AAA to start 2010, and there's Dustin Ackley now too (although maybe he's the future at second base). At the MLB level, Gutierrez and Ichiro aren't going anywhere anytime soon. There is still a bit of a glut in the outfield, even without Gillies.

Lastly, JC Ramirez is far from a sure thing, considering he is yet to have good production. With the pitching depth Z has added the past year, and impending returns of Ryan Feierabend and Michael Pineda from injuries, JC's loss is more than manageable.

In other words, the Mariners are on the verge of acquiring a Cy Young award-winner in his prime for three prospects they already have replacements for in their system. That's a little different than the Bedard deal, agreed?

Furthermore, Cliff Lee will almost certainly be a Type A free agent, and if he leaves the Mariners, will even more certainly join a contender. That means if he walks, the M's will get two draft picks, the signing team's first-rounder, and a compensatory pick between the first and second rounds. So, even if Lee walks at the end of the year, Seattle should have a chance to directly replace two of the prospects lost with comparable (or maybe even better) ones. That's the worst case scenario in this deal.

Not bad, not bad at all.

Enough about risk management. The Mariners just acquired Cliff Lee, a Cy Young award-winner in his prime. They ripped headlines away from the Red Sox as they signed John Lackey to a monster deal. They dashed the Angels' hopes of acquiring Roy Halladay. They may very well have shifted the balance in the AL West with this deal.

Seriously, dream with me for a second. Let's say the M's beat out the Rangers and Angels for the AL West title. That's looking more and more reasonable by the day. Even without an offense that lights the world on fire, what team would want to face Cliff Lee and King Felix in a short series? Those are low-scoring games waiting to happen, and one of the lineups will have Ichiro and Chone Figgins at the top, and the other won't. That's a nucleus a team can ride to a championship. It's not enough by itself, but it is a long ways towards enough.

It's a whole bunch closer than Jose Vidro and Miguel Batista, that's for sure.

This is the biggest trade in Mariners history. Cliff Lee probably is not the greatest pitcher the Mariners have ever acquired in a trade. That honor has to go to Randy Johnson. However, Randy Johnson wasn't the Big Unit when the M's got him. He was an erratic, but promising, lefty. On the other hand, Cliff Lee is Cliff Lee. He is a finished product. He is a Cy Young winner. He threw a complete game shutout in game one of the World Series against the eventual world champions only a couple months ago. The Mariners have never acquired a player of Lee's caliber in his prime.

This is huge. This is what the big boys do. This is a statement. Even if the report of the failed physical makes the whole deal fall apart (which would be devastating), the statement has been made. Jack Zduriencik has the guts, the brains, and the skills to pull off mega-deals. I think we all saw that potential with the Putz trade, and all the rumors that swirled at the Winter Meetings.

It is no longer potential though. Z pulled off this deal. A failed physical would be an unfortunate glitch. Physicals don't happen until the sides of discussed and agreed to the deal though. (Honestly, I don't think a failed physical stops the deal at this point too)

The statement has been made. Angels, we're coming for you, and we will catch you. It's only a matter of time.

Huntington At His Worst Again

I am continually amazed at what Pirates GM Neal Huntington says in the media. He is fortunate to work in one of the smallest markets in baseball. Over the weekend, Pittsburgh decided to non-tender their 26-year-old closer, Matt Capps, in what I would consider the most curious move by far of the non-tender deadline. Pittsburgh had trade offers for him the past couple seasons, but in a pleasant surprise at the time decided to hold on to him. Now, they ditched Capps for nothing, and teams are lining up to talk to him.

The Pittsburgh media had questions. Neal Huntington had answers.

Why wasn't Capps offered arbitration?

"We didn't feel like going through the process with Matt was a good decision for us," said Huntington, "We feel like we can take that money and apply it elsewhere and do as well as we expeted Matt to do."

The money in question is no more than $3.5 million. That's around what Capps was expected to ask for in arbitration.

So, if arbitration wasn't an option, why didn't Capps get traded?

According to Huntington, "All trade value disappeared when there was a media report of a non-tender."

That's a clear reference to this report by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. This sounds a bit like an issue with the paper's reporting, but the paper is quick to point out that Huntington has made it clear he is not pleased that the information was leaked. He does not have an issue with the paper's reporting.

One last question: What are you going to do about the hole, Neal?

"We've got one more than we were anticipating," Huntington explained, "But the reality is, we've now got some money to apply to the bullpen to fill Matt's spot and elsewhere. We'll continue to explore. If you're talking about the Matt Capps of '07 or '08, that would be very, very difficult to replace. He's probably not somebody we non-tender. The second half of '08 and into '09 ... it's not that hard to replace a reliever with a 5.00 or 6.00 ERA. We'll miss Matt, and we wish him well. The only reason we had interest in him is that we felt he's due to have a bounce-back year. But there are other options out there. Like Matt gambled that he can get more through free agency, we're gambling that we can replace him with similar dollars toward one or multiple pieces."

This isn't quite the level Neal went to when he threw Ian Snell under the bus, but he again exhibited a unique way of killing his own team's assets. I'm amazed that he discussed how easy Capps will be to replace and later said, "We'd love to have Matt Capps back in our bullpen. We really would. We feel he's going to have a bounce-back year, and we hope, for our sake, that the market shows we were appropriate." It's borderline schizophrenic!

I understand where Huntington is coming from, and to a certain extent he is right. Capps had a bad year that does not warrant the money he would have got in arbitration. The Pirates have limited financial resources too, and sinking money into a bullpen is an inefficient use of resources. Solid bullpens can be cobbled together for next to nothing. For instance, look at the 2009 Mariners.

However, Huntington should have seen this situation coming by the trade deadline. He knew by then that Capps was struggling through a bad season, and would be in line for a raise he wasn't willing to give him. There were offers on the table for Capps from other teams at the deadline. The Pirates would have been selling low, but they at least would have got something, instead of giving Capps up for nothing. There is an unacceptable lack of vision wrapped up in Capps' departure.

Furthermore, Huntington's public comments continue to display a lack of commitment from the Pirates organization to its players. He puts all the pressure on the players to perform, and when they don't, he throws them under the bus (like he did with Snell) and/or casts them aside (as he did with Snell, and now with Capps).

It is good to hold players to standards, but Huntington's public approach is terrible. It is imperative that the Pirates foster an atmosphere that players develop in, and want to play in, especially with their limited financial resources. However, why would a player invest their career in the Pirates when they see the organization ditch players the instant they underperform/ask for too much money/become expensive? That's probably not how Huntington sees it, but how can't a player see it that way?

Neal Huntington will continue to make decisions generally regarded as fiscally responsible and savvy. That's good, and especially good in a smaller market. However, Pittsburgh isn't going anywhere under him until he commits to someone. Maybe he is clearing the way for Andrew McCutcheon, Pedro Alvarez, and Brad Lincoln, but I'm skeptical.

Sometimes players have off years, like Capps just did. It happens, and it will probably happen in the future with some of Pittsburgh's current top prospects. Will Huntington ditch them too in the name of market efficiency?

Non-Tendered Targets

Yesterday, teams had to decide if they would offer contracts to all their arbitration-eligible players. This is a different group from players who could file for free agency, such as Adrian Beltre. The Mariners non-tendered one player, Ryan Langerhans. Any non-tendered player hits the free agent market, with no compensatory draft picks attached. I hope Langerhans lands somewhere, because he's an awfully good asset to have stashed away on the bench.

I love the non-tendered batch of free agents for a couple reasons. First, they are often younger players than traditional free agents. Since they were only arbitration eligible, they have only three to five years of MLB experience. Second, they are cheap. A player is most typically non-tendered when a team decides they are not worth the raise they would likely earn in arbitration.

A total of 39 players were non-tendered, flooding an already crowded market. Two players pop out to me as good fits for the Mariners:

Chien-Ming Wang, RHP - His struggles last year are well documented, and a couple of major injuries over the past couple years make him a risk. However, there are several reasons to think Wang can bounce back and be productive. First of all, Wang has never relied on velocity, so if he has permanently lost some, it does not take away what has made him successful. Perhaps, since he features a heavy sinker, he could be an even more extreme ground ball pitcher. Furthermore, he is only 30 years old, making him 3-4 years younger than other free agent options. I'd rather sink a couple million into Wang, even with his problems, than five or six million (or more) in a guy like Joel Pineiro.

Kelly Johnson, 2B/OF - For a long time I've had an irrational interest in Johnson, so I might as well be up front with that. There is no doubt he had a rough 2009 campaign as he lost time to injuries, and in the process his starting gig to Martin Prado. It's not a shocker that he was non-tendered. However, Kelly is only 28 years old, possesses good plate discipline, is a left-handed bat with some gap power, and plays second base and left field (even a good left field based on his limited opportunities). Offensively and defensively, Johnson fits some M's needs.

One guy I wouldn't touch at all is Jack Cust. He's a lefty with power, so rumors will inevitably fly. However, his defense limits him to DH. His hitting has declined the past three years, and I would expect that trend to continue.

M's Take Texeira in Rule 5 Draft

The winter meetings weren't quite as cold as the pacific northwest has been lately, but nothing really heated up in Indianapolis, either. Aside from making the Chone Figgins signing official, the Mariners' most significant move was picking Kanekoa Texeira in the Rule 5 draft.

Texeira is a short right-hander that doesn't light up the radar gun, so exactly the kind of pitcher overlooked all the time. His production is unquestioned though. Kanekoa's career ERA is under 3.00 in the minors. Granted, he is yet to play above AA, but that's still quality production.

Texeira relies mostly on ground balls to be productive. He projects to be fairly hittable in the majors, but ground balls for the most part are harmless (especially with a guy like Jack Wilson at shortstop). Looking at his numbers, for some reason he generated way more ground balls facing left-handed hitters last year. I don't know if that's a trend with Texeira or not, but that may make him an option to use as a quasi-specialty lefty, even though he is right-handed. Realistically though, he will probably either be a middle reliever, or returned to the Yankees.

If you are interested, you can find all the Rule 5 draft results here. The Mariners lost only one player, 1B Marshall Hubbard, in the AAA phase.

Of players picked in the MLB phase, here are the ones that I think have a chance to stick: LHP Ben Snyder (TEX), LHP Edgar Osuna (KC), LHP Zach Kroenke (ARI), RHP Bobby Cassevah (OAK), LHP Chuck Lofgren (MIL), LHP Armando Zerpa (TB), and RHP Kanekoa Texeira (SEA). The most intriguing of the bunch to me are Snyder and Cassevah (looking at Cassevah's numbers, I'm pretty sure he's a submariner). Texeira seems to be the safest bet of the bunch, though I wonder if he is a year away from being truly ready.

The Mariners also picked someone in the AAA phase, RHP Terrence Engles. He was quite good last year, but awful the year before. Did he find something in 2009? The numbers are so drastically better across the board you would have to think so.

And there you have it, the Rule 5 Draft. Teams loaded up on arms, which is the smart thing to do. No reason to spend money on middle relievers when several can be found for cheap.

Rule 5 Draft Preview

There are literally hundreds of players eligible to be picked in the Rule 5 Draft. I would have to manually compile the list, and I do have enough of life outside of musing about the Mariners to keep me from doing that.

Instead, I will offer a couple modest lists. First of all, college players from the 2006 draft not on a team's 40-man roster are eligible this year. That was the first year I compiled a watchlist. Here are the players from my 2006 list available in this year's Rule 5 draft:

Of those players, I would only take looks at Wright and Cooper. Steven could be a mop-up man in a bullpen, and maybe develop into a decent reliever. Craig is a right-handed bat with a little gap power,and a good eye. He can play some first base and outfield, so he also brings some versatility, and he has a little speed too. He does enough things to perhaps justify a bench spot on a 2010 major league roster, though he won't threaten any incumbent starter.

If I were Jack Z, I wouldn't be looking at any of them. However, I think most teams (especially in the NL) should at least take a look at Cooper.

Second, here is the list of M's players available in the Rule 5 draft:
I hope that's everyone (and everyone on the list is actually eligible). I am a baseball geek, but not a big enough one to go through this process for every organization. Only a few names pop out on the list for me. Cesar Jimenez certainly does. He was injured last year, but he's only 25 years old with a little MLB experience, and his brief time in the majors was good too. Teams are always looking for left-handers. Because of that, Robert Rohrbaugh also could be looked at. Andrew Baldwin and Kyle Parker may get a few sniffs too, and maybe someone likes one of them as a middle reliever. Baldwin in particular sits in the low 90s, so he has a pretty decent arm.

Among position players, Mike Wilson, Johan Limonta, and Carlos Peguero are the players that stand out above the rest for me. Of that trio, Limonta is the most polished product, and he also brings the most defensive versatility (though I don't think he is that great of a defender anywhere). Wilson has great power, but holes that have been exposed repeatedly in AA and AAA. Peguero is a younger version of Mike Wilson. They should have too many flaws to get picked, and definitely have too many to stick with another team.

So, if anyone is getting picked from the M's, I'd bet on Rohrbaugh or Jimenez. Don't pay much attention to Rule 5 draft previews, either. They mostly focus on trying to find diamonds in the rough. The majority of players picked profile as fringe bench players or stopgaps in bullpens. If they were that good, they wouldn't be eligible for the Rule 5 least 999 times out of 1000 or so. The rare diamond in the rough is what gives the Rule 5 draft any appeal at all.

Beltre Says No, Figgins Says Yes

Chone FigginsAdrian Beltre declined his arbitration offer, rendering my ranting and raving about how much financial sense it makes for him moot. We will never know what he would have made in arbitration, or what he would make as a free agent in next year's market. So, nobody will ever be able to prove me wrong when I maintain he would have earned more if he had accepted arbitration.

In the end, this is ironically a breath of fresh air if you ask me. Adrian Beltre will still get paid plenty well for his services. He already has a boatload of money. It's rare for a player in his career to get two significant multi-year contracts in free agency. I honestly don't think Beltre's decision was about the money. It was about exploring his options, and picking his best chance to contribute to a team built to win now. He couldn't have done that if he had accepted arbitration.

Now, on to the newest Mariners, and Beltre's likely replacement at the hot corner, Chone Figgins. He officially signed yesterday for 4 years, $36 million, with an optional fifth year in the deal that vests basically if he's pretty awesome for the four years of the deal guaranteed. It's quite a bit of money for a slap-hitting, 30-something, diminutive professional pest.

The Figgins contract is money well spent though. I am a little concerned about how the deal will look a few years from now, but there is a good chance that Chone ages gracefully. His greatest assets are speed, plate discipline, a high contact rate, and good defense at third base, one of the more premium positions. Speed tends to stick around for a while (look at Ichiro), plate discipline tends to improve, while contact and defense tend to erode. However, improved plate discipline helps offset a diminishing contact rate, and Figgins could slide over to second or into the outfield as his defense diminishes.

What gets me excited about the Figgins deal is what it does for the M's offense. It has an identity now. Ichiro and Figgins should be at the top of the order (personally, I would keep Ichiro in the leadoff spot, and bat Figgins second). Chone's patient approach at the plate offsets the drawbacks of Ichiro's aggresive mindset, freeing Ichiro up even more to do what he does so well. However, that's the only major difference between the two at the dish. They both thrive on putting the ball and play, and letting their legs do the rest.

When a team faced the 2009 Mariners, they gave closer looks to Ichiro, Russell Branyan, and may a few other players who happened to be hot at the time. It was a handful of individuals. When a team faces the 2010 Mariners, they will always start with the top of the lineup now, and trying to deal with the pressure it can generate. It's more than a couple of players. It's an identity, a unique facet of the Mariners offense that will worry opponents. While Beltre has offensive value, his skillset does not mesh with Ichiro's to produce that kind of identity.

Plus, it's sweet taking such a big piece of the Angels' success away from them...although, the last time the M's signed a corner infielder away from LA of A (Scott Spiezio), it was a disaster. I liked that move a ton when it happened too, more than I like the Figgins deal right now, actually.

Figgins doesn't bring a bad back to Seattle though, or a stupid red tuft of hair below his chin. He brings skills that this team needs, and meshes beautifully with the talent already here. The price makes me hesitant, but not despondent. That's probably the sign of a fair deal. Welcome to your new home, Chone. I can't wait to see you slap that ridiculous rally monkey silly.

More On Beltre And Arbitration

It looks Chone Figgins is going to become a Mariner. I'll write about that when it's official, just to make certain. No rush on that. However, it is the latest indication that Adrian Beltre is gone.

Reading through the arbitration rules, it's hard to say what Beltre could net in arbitration. He breaks the system. Basically, teams can only compare players signed to 1-year deals with comparable MLB service time to the player in question.

Even though Beltre is 30 years old, he already has 12 years of service time. Players with around 12 years of service time that have signed one-year deals in recent history include Mark Loretta, Nomar Garciaparra, and Garret Anderson. In other words, veterans signing as stopgaps or bench players.

The group Adrian Beltre can be compared to in arbitration doesn't describe Beltre at all. Technically, the "comparable" players might allow the Mariners to offer something absurdly low, like $1.5 million.

However, if I were Beltre's agent (who by the way is Scott Boras), I'd take a different approach. I would highlight the unique nature of Adrian Beltre, and how any player with comparable service time is not all that comparable, given that Beltre made his MLB debut at 19 years old. I might also highlight that Mark Loretta, a player with 12 years of experience in 2008 when he went to arbitration, ended up with a raise. I might also point out that David Weathers, the only player with over 10 years of MLB experience to file an arbitration figure last year, was guaranteed a raise even if the team had won (the two sides ended up agreeing to a contract before the hearing).

Then, after presenting that data, I would have asked for around $9 million. In total, Adrian Beltre earned $13.4 million last year. So, as Beltre's agent, I would be asking for 33% pay cut after showing that the only recent players with comparable MLB experience earned raises in arbitration. Furthermore, if Beltre were not a free agent, the Mariners would have to offer at least 80% of Beltre's 2008 compensation to him, which would be $10.72 million.

Doesn't $9 million sound like a reasonable asking price, especially if the M's actually went with "comparable" players that signed one-year deals, and offered $1.5 million? Remember, one side or the other wins. Would anybody really agree that Adrian Beltre deserves an 89% pay cut?

I don't think the M's would really offer such a low figure. Maybe the would offer something like $5-6 million. That's not my point though. I think it is reasonable to suppose that Beltre could get awarded $9-10 million in arbitration. That still might be the biggest pay cut in arbitration history.

On top of that, it's equally reasonable to suppose that Beltre won't get $9-10 million in the current market. There is no way he gets more than Figgins annually, and it looks like Chone will get somewhere around $9 million per year.

Why wouldn't Adrian Beltre take a gamble with arbitration? Let's say he agrees to $6 million. That's over a 50% pay cut, so I think that's a very low estimate. Furthermore, let's say he could have got the same money as Chone Figgins in free agency, $9 million annually for 4-5 years. That should be an upper estimate for what he could get in this free agent market.

In this scenario, Beltre earns $3 million fewer dollars in 2010 than he would have as a free agent. Now, let's suppose that Beltre has an average year for him. That would include an OPS almost 100 points higher than last year's, playing in about 35 more games, and challenging for a gold glove, if not winning it.

Unless Garrett Atkins has a huge year, Beltre would unquestionably be the top third baseman available in free agent next off-season. Now, to offset the money he didn't earn in 2009 in this scenario ($3 million), he would have to make it up with an even bigger contract than the hypothetical 4-5 years at $9 million annually he turned down. In other words, he would have to get a minimum of 3-4 years, $30-39 million to break even. As the top third baseman in the market, at 31 years old, in an economy that should be stronger than it is right now, that is highly doable.

Why wouldn't Beltre seriously consider arbitration? I don't think he gets $9 million per year in this market. I think he can get more than $6 million in arbitration too. A return to career averages would likely get him more than $10 million annually in free agency, especially if he is the top free agent option at the hot corner in a better economy than the current one.

Maybe it is a sure bet that Adrian Beltre is gone. After watching him play baseball the past five years, I have no doubt in my mind that he cares about more than money. A chance to join a team like the Red Sox or Angels would certainly appeal to him. On paper though, arbitration is not a bad route for Beltre to go, and that's why I don't think it's a slam dunk that he rejects it.

Phils Ink Polanco, Beltre Suiters Dwindle

Placido PolancoPlacido Polanco, after not getting offered arbitration, became a hot commodity. The Phillies scooped him up today for a reported 3 years, $18 million to replace Pedro Feliz at third base. Polanco has a significantly different skillset from Feliz, but I'm not certain that he is better (especially as a third baseman) as much as he is different. Then again, the Phillies are only paying Polanco $1 million more per year than they gave Feliz last season, so maybe they see it the same way.

Anyway, the Phillies were one of the teams linked to Adrian Beltre, but they certainly are out of the running now. That leaves the Red Sox as the only other team commonly linked to him. Realistically, I could see Beltre going to the Angels, Red Sox, Orioles, and maybe the Dodgers, Twins, or Astros.

The Angels won't seriously pursue Beltre until Chone Figgins makes a decision on the arbitration he was offered.

Boston probably still has to move Mike Lowell to make room for Beltre. Jason Bay is a bigger priority for them too, and the free agent they seem to covet most is Marco Scutaro.

The Orioles are farther away from the playoffs than the Mariners, farther from Beltre's home than the Mariners, and I doubt would pay him more than what Beltre can get in arbitration.

The Dodgers are a good fit in several ways, but they couldn't even get around to offering Randy Wolf arbitration with their current ownership mess.

The Twins are wild cards, but signing Beltre might wipe out long-term contract talks with Joe Mauer.

Houston is a pretty speculative guess too, and a fringe one at best. They are more focused on Miguel Tejada, and I don't think they can offer the same type of money that Beltre can get in arbitration.

Ironically, both the Twins and Astros might be better served looking at M's second baseman Jose Lopez in a trade if they are interested in acquiring a third baseman at all.

Adrian Beltre has to make a decision on arbitration by Monday. I don't see a team that will heavily pursue his services between now and then. Would you leave $10-$12 million for one year on the table, looking at those options above?

Beltre Offered Arbitration

Adrian BeltreThe Mariners had two arbitration decisions to make by yesterday. They had no Type A free agents, but a couple Type Bs - Erik Bedard and Adrian Beltre. Bedard was not offered arbitration, which is not surprising. He would have likely accepted, because he would be guaranteed a one-year deal close to $8 million. There is no way he gets that in the open market, because he is not worth that kind of money. Good (and easy) decision by the M's to let him go.

Beltre, on the other hand, was offered arbitration. There have been reports linking him to the Phillies and Red Sox. He definitely is a player other clubs are interested in. So, popular thinking is that Beltre will decline arbitration, and get a long-term deal elsewhere.

However, consider Beltre's position. He is coming off an injury-plagued year, that both impacted his playing time and offensive performance. At 30 years old, he is looking at one more lucrative multi-year contract. If he declines arbitration, he gets that deal this off-season.

What if Beltre accepts the arbitration? He will likely get around $12 million in 2010, and likely be healthier and more productive. Also, there is a reasonable chance that teams will be willing to spend more money next year, since teams are concerned right now about the current economic slump.

I think a 31-year-old Beltre, coming off an average season by Beltre standards, can demand a better contract than a 30-year-old Beltre coming off arguably the worst year of his career. Unless Beltre can secure something close to $12 million annually for 4-5 years, I think he will earn more money, both short and long term, if he accepts the M's arbitration.

With that said, the security that comes with a long-term deal, and desire to play for a franchise in better position to win it all in the next few years, are good reasons for Beltre to decline arbitration. Are they good enough to leave some money on the table though? We'll find out by Monday.

Minor League Catching Options

The Mariners could use some catching depth with the departure of Kenji Johjima, but at a cheap price. It makes sense to go with Adam Moore and Rob Johnson in 2010, leaving whomever is signed to spend the majority of the year in AAA. Hence, the best fit might be a minor league free agent. Here are some of the better options:

  • Orlando Mercado - Orlando will be just 25 years old when the 2010 season starts, so he still has some upside. He hasn't played above AA yet, and he has extremely limited power. However, he has a good eye at the plate, and his short stature lends itself nicely to sitting low behind the plate (something pitchers generally prefer).
  • Steve Torrealba - The lesser-known brother of current Rockies (and former M's) catcher Yorvit Torrealba has some big league experience, and has hit well in limited opportunities the past few years in the minors. He will be 32 years old when the season starts, so he is at an age where catchers are prone to trailing off considerably. However, the experience and flashes of productivity the past few years are worth a look in spring training.
  • Mike Rabelo - This is a bit of a stretch. Rabelo missed almost all of last season, and is now 30 years old with only a couple cups of coffee in the majors. However, big league experience is still big league experience, he is also a switch-hitter, and he has shown a little bit of pop in the past.
  • Neil Wilson - Wilson, like Rabelo, didn't play much last year. However, he has shown some power at every level, and is still relatively young at 26 years old. In lower levels he split time between catcher and DH. I'm not sure if that's a commentary on his bat or his defense.
  • J.R. House - His 2009 campaign was bad, and at 30 years old it may be a sign that he's done for. However, if House returns to his 2008 form, he's worth picking up. Somebody should send him an invitation to spring training.
  • Gabriel Gutierrez - Gabriel has bounced around between leagues the last few years, showing little flashes here and there. He is only 26 years old, and with a few flashes, he might be worth a closer look. Consistent playing time for more than a month in one place might let him develop into a decent backstop.
  • Rene Rivera - Yes, this is the same Rivera that's easy to forget from the pre-Johjima years. The Mariners rushed Rene to the majors and derailed his development. However, he has started to find a power stroke (though with tons of Ks), and he is still pretty young at 26 years old. At 5'10", 230 pounds, Rivera is short and stalky, which in my opinion is the ideal build for a catcher.
The reality is that all these catching options have noticeable flaws. The most complete backstop of the bunch is probably Torrealba. However, this is a hunt for a third-string catcher, and these are minor league free agents for a reason. However, what is nice about these players is that it should only take a minor league contract to get these guys in the organization. If I were Jack Z, I'd try to sign a whole bunch of these guys, like maybe five or six of them. Throw a handful of them against the roster, and see who sticks. Whatever minor league free agents lack in quality, they sort of make up for in quantity.

A Rosterful Weekend

The Mariners set their 40-man roster heading into free agency by the Friday deadline. Players not on the 40-man roster are eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, unless they are still pretty young (highly imprecise definition, but that's the basic idea). As we have come to expect under Jack Zduriencik, the M's were one of the most active teams. They added six prospects to the roster, lost a couple pitchers through waivers, and through it all the most interesting note from the weekend might be a potential position switch for a top prospect.

First off, the additions:
  • Dan Cortes, RHP - Cortes was the prize of the Yuni Betancourt trade. He still has good stuff, but has control issues. Still, he is likely to hit AAA at some point this year. Definitely worth protecting.
  • Ricky Orta, RHP - Orta spent most of the season in AA West Tennessee's bullpen, and enjoyed his finest professional season to date. He has a live arm, and maybe something clicked for him this past year. He should be in AAA in 2010.
  • Edward Paredes, LHP - I am surprised that Paredes was added to the roster. He is yet to show much potential, and he has not played above advanced A ball. I don't think a team would have looked at Paredes as a possible Rule 5 pick, and even if they did, I'm not sure I'd feel real bad.
  • JC Ramirez, LHP - The pitcher formerly know as Juan Ramirez (and still listed by most sources as Juan Ramirez) is an interesting case. Scouts continue to rave about his stuff and mental makeup. However, he is yet to turn that into real solid success, even in the low minors. Given how much some think of his future, he definitely is worth protecting, even though he has at least a few years before he is ready for the majors.
  • Anthony Varvaro, RHP - Like several M's pitching prospects this past season, Varvaro was shifted from the rotation to the bullpen, and found much more success. His stuff is electric, though he doesn't always know exactly where the ball is going. Still, especially after a solid AFL showing, it was time to protect Varvaro. It wouldn't be shocking if he plays with the M's at some point this season either.
  • Ezequiel Carrera, OF - As if the Putz deal didn't look bad enough for the Mets already, Carrera exploded in AA for the M's in 2009. He doesn't have power, but he makes consistent contact, has a great eye at the plate, and uses his speed for all it is worth. He has the skillset of a prototypical leadoff hitter, and will be in AAA in 2010.
In the process, the M's exposed three players to waivers. Josh Wilson was outrighted to AAA, so the Mariners held on to him. However, they lost RHP Chris Jakubauskas to the Pirates, and RHP Robert Manuel to the Red Sox. Jakubauskas was the surprise of last year's spring training, and carved out a spot in long relief for most of 2009. He had a long road to the majors, which certainly showed with how much he enjoyed his time with the Mariners. For all those personal reasons, I am sorry to see him leave.

Manuel never appeared in a game for the Mariners. He was the player acquired in the Wladimir Balentien trade. In the end, he was a Mariner barely long enough to say hi before we say bye.

Ultimately, Jakubauskas and Manuel are the definition of replaceable relievers. Every team can use a few of them, but they are not highly difficult to find. I would much rather have guys like Varvaro, Ramirez, and Cortes protected, because there are good reasons to think that they will be above replacement level once they develop. Holding on to replacement level players for dear life was part of what got Bavasi in trouble as a GM. It destroyed roster flexibility for no good reason.

All the moves leave the Mariners with 37 players on their 40-man roster. That number does not include free agents like Russell Branyan, Adrian Beltre, and Erik Bedard. Obviously, additions will be made, so the space is needed. Still, since I didn't have to give up Manuel and Jakubauskas yet, I probably would have kept them. On the flip side though, if it was certain that they were going to leave, it is nicer for their futures to let them move on as early as possible.

Now, despite all those transactions, the biggest news of the weekend regards Dustin Ackley. The Mariners are going to have him work out at second base in January. For now it is an experiment, but I think it is an experiment that Seattle really hopes works out.

The Mariners have a logjam in the outfield. Franklin Gutierrez and Ichiro are not going anywhere anytime soon. Michael Saunders may be the opening day left fielder, and his future seems to be pretty bright. Ezequiel Carrera and Tyson Gillies both are promising top-of-the-order bats. Joe Dunigan performed fairly well in the AFL after a breakout 2009 campaign, so he can't be ignored either. It is hard to think that nobody out of that bunch of youngsters pans out.

The infield, however, is a different story. Matt Tuiasosopo is close to ready, but most do not see him sticking at second base long-term, if he ever plays there regularly. Carlos Triunfel lost a year with the broken leg, and he also does not appear to be a second baseman long-term. As of now, the M's best second base prospect might be Kyle Seager, Ackley's UNC teammate and fellow 2009 draftee.

If Ackley can play at second base, his bat would become even more valuable. There are not many good hitting second baseman, and even fewer of them defend well. Ackley, with his athleticism, baseball acumen, and work ethic, has a good chance to be the complete package at second.

I am excited that the Mariners are going to work Ackley out at second base. It makes some sense with where the roster is at right now. It further paves the way for Jose Lopez to get traded, or move to third base. Either move makes more sense than keeping him at second base.

This team continues to find ways to get better. It is either a sign of progress, or of complete ineptitude, when a guy who pitched as much as Jakubauskas is let go for nothing. In this case, it is progress. Two years ago, the M's were cutting players loose like Richie Sexson and Jose Vidro. Now, teams want the M's scraps. This roster still has a long way to go, but it has also come a long way.

Scioscia AL Manager of the Year

Mike SciosciaZack Greinke should have been a no-brainer for AL Cy Young, and in the end he ran away with it. Mike Scioscia was an even surer bet for Manager of the Year, so it is no surprise he got the honor today.

If I had a vote, I would have given it to Scioscia, which is saying something. I've always felt that he is an overrated manager. His on-the-field strategies are among the worst in baseball. He is way too aggressive with bunting, hit-and-running, and generally anything associated with "small ball." He's had guys like Garret Anderson, Vladimir Guerrero, Mark Teixeira, and now Kendry Morales. The power in the heart of the lineups he has managed have been the backbones of his successful offenses, not all the bunting and running.

Scioscia's bullpen use has been questionable too. Jose Arredando struggled early, but Kevin Jepsen was not an upgrade. However, Jepsen is big and throws hard, and that was all he needed to do to be a weapon in Scioscia's eyes. Also, though GM Tony Reagins is who signed Brian Fuentes, I'd guess that Scioscia had some say in the matter. Although Fuentes accumulated plenty of saves, he hardly lived up to the contract he signed.

Despite all that (maybe there really is something to the rally monkey), the Angels win year in and year out, and that makes Mike Scioscia a respected manager. Players love playing for him too, only adding to his venerable stature.

This year, despite the tactical shortcomings, Scioscia more than earned the honor as top manager in the AL. His strategic tactics weren't any better, but make no mistake, this was his best managing job yet. In fact, it was so good, he made me re-think the value of a manager.

At the start of the season, Kelvim Escobar and John Lackey were on the DL. That helped open up a great opportunity for top prospect Nick Adenhart. He had a nice start, and then died in a tragic car crash.


How in the world does a team deal with that? Active players don't die. It's very rare. A promising prospect with a bright future is heart-breaking. The way he went, at the hands of an ignorant drunk driver, is soul-crushing.

On top of all that, his untimely passing left the Angels down yet another starting pitcher. Talk about a gaping hole in every way imaginable.

Somehow, through all that, the Angels persevered. Kelvim Escobar never really came back, but once Lackey did, the team took off. In the end, the Angels ran away with what proved to be a much tougher division than expected.

Between heavy hearts, a patchwork starting rotation for the first couple months, an offense incorporating youngsters Erick Aybar and Kendry Morales, and the upstart Rangers and Mariners, the Angels had lots of reasons to give up. They had a toxic concoction by about mid-April. Somehow, the team wasn't poisoned though, and Scioscia has to get a ton of the credit for that. He got the best out of his players, and as they started to win games, and started to get players back, they blossomed into one of the AL's finest teams. Remarkably, Mike Scioscia fostered an environment that the players thrived in, despite the difficult circumstances they faced.

I've tended to downplay the impact a manager has on a team. Baseball is so different from other team sports. Coaches call plays, and constantly shift personnel in other sports. However, tactically, the biggest impact a manager has on the game is at the very start, with the lineup card. There are in-game decisions to be made, but nothing as significant as the starting nine. Unlike in other sports, the manager is nothing more than an interested observer for much of the game.

Tactically, I believe most managers are at the same level. There are a couple bad ones, and maybe a couple good ones, but the vast majority are equally matched. This is why I have tended to think that the impact of most managers is overrated. This is also why I never thought I would endorse Mike Scioscia as Manager of the Year. I honestly think his strategies are often counterproductive.

Yet, watching the Angels and Scioscia this year convinced me that there is more to managing. There is something to the environment and culture a manager develops in the clubhouse. Don Wakamatsu did a ton to convince me of this too.

It's similar to studying environments. Students don't seek out construction zones or runways to review for big tests. They choose their own bedroom, a library, or maybe a coffee shop. They generally choose some place quiet, though some areas are more quiet than others.

A baseball team, on some level, is the same way. They will play better in an environment more conducive to performing at a high level. The manager has significant influence over their team's environment, from the way they communicate to players, to the drills the team runs, to countless other things. I think most managers have a feel for what a good environment is. However, just like the best students know whether the library or the coffee shop is a better study space for them, a great manager knows how to tweak the environment to maximize it for their team.

That's where Mike Scioscia shines. He knows how to create a terrific environment for his team, year in and year out, no matter what. I have a hard time believing many managers could have adapted to the extreme circumstances Scioscia faced with the Angels this year, and that is why he is the 2009 AL Manager of the Year.

Felix Second, Greinke First in Cy Young Voting

Felix HernandezI am happy that Felix Hernandez finished second in the AL Cy Young voting for two reasons:
  1. The price to re-sign Felix would be higher if he had won the Cy Young
  2. Zack Greinke really, really deserved the award
Felix deserved it too, and it's true that in many years he would have won it with the way he performed in 2009. However, analyzing Zack Greinke's numbers is a study of how bad the Royals were. Here are some fun numbers for thought, all based on Greinke's 16-8 record:
  • Greinke went only 12-8 once he gave up an earned run in 2009.
  • The Royals went only 8-2 in starts which Greinke allowed no earned runs.
  • Four of Greinke's eight losses were quality starts
  • Five of Greinke's nine no decisions were quality starts
  • Only seven of Grienke's starts were not quality starts. Of those seven, Greinke won two of those games. Those were both games where he went five innings and allowed no runs.
  • Greinke gave up a total of two earned runs in his six complete games, and his record in those games was 5-1.
  • Greinke had nine no decisions, despite going at least five innings in every start this past year.
  • Greinke had two starts against the Angels this year. His combined line was 16 IP, 12 H, 2 Runs (only 1 earned), 2 BB, and 13 K. His record in those two games? 0-1.
Seriously, 2009 Zack Greinke is the epitome of no support. His offense never bailed him out in a rare subpar start, while he had many great starts go to waste. On a decent team, Greinke goes at least 20-4. Put it this way: Grienke was so good, even the BBWA could see it despite his 16-8 record. That takes something. This is a group that handed Bartolo Colon the Cy Young a few years ago because he had 20 wins, and basically nothing else.

So, congratulations to Zack Greinke. He deserved something for what had to be a frustrating season, made only more frustrating by how masterful his performances were.

Felix won't come cheap, but Cy Youngs are killer bargaining chips, fair or not. Barry Zito got his 7 years and $126 million largely on his reputation as a Cy Young award-winner. It's a chip that Hernandez usually would have after a season like 2009, but he does not. Bad break for him, good break for the Mariners.

Jack Wilson Signs

Jack WilsonNot that Jack Wilson knows me, or cares, but I feel like an apology is in order. I'm only getting around to talking about his contract now. It was definitely a big enough deal to talk about the moment it was agreed to.

In case you have not heard, the Mariners have themselves a starting shortstop. Jack Wilson agreed to a 2 year, $10 million deal, with a few incentives tied to plate appearances. This voids the $8.5 million option on his previous contract.

This is a perfect deal for everyone involved. The Mariners save about $3 million dollars on the 2010 payroll, while Jack Wilson gets some longer term security. It is clear that Wilson wanted to come back, and is happy to be back. It was also clear, particularly after the JJ Hardy trade, that nobody fit the M's shortstop hole better than Wilson.

Jack's defense is worth about $5 million by itself, which is good because his hitting doesn't add much at all. He will be lauded for "professional" at-bats, but that's a nice way of saying he tries his best to make his outs productive somehow. I will take Wilson's at-bats to what we saw out of Yuni the last couple years though, in a heartbeat.

In the end, it's always good to have players around that want to be in your organization. Jack Wilson is one of those guys, and he was signed for more than fair market value, and he fills a hole on the roster as well as anyone available.

There is also a bigger message in this deal. When Jack Z made the trade with Pittsburgh, he always referred to Jack Wilson as a long-term solution at shortstop. Many (including myself) weren't sold on that. I know I thought the shortstop market may change this offseason, and that Jack Z would evaluate those options. In the end though, Z stuck to his word, even after Wilson struggled through an injury-plagued couple months in Seattle. With deals like Wilson's, Jack Z is proving that he is a man of his word, and that the M's will stick with their players.

The Mariners are creating the kind of environment that players want to play in. That's not enough to lure the Mark Teixeira's of the world to the northwest (money still talks), but Jack Z's aggressive approach to roster composition, combined with the environment he and Don Wakamatsu are fostering in the organization, make Seattle a more attractive destination.

Junior Coming Back

Ken Griffey Jr.Today, the Mariners announced that they have re-signed Ken Griffey Jr. He inked a one-year deal worth a reported $2 million, with another $1 million that can be earned in incentives. It appears to be similar to the deal he signed last year.

There is lots to say and debate over this move, even though we are talking about a 40-year-old aging slugger signing for near the veteran minimum. That happens when the player in question is the greatest player in franchise history.

Even Jack Z's comment that it was "strictly a baseball decision" is quite cryptic. The Mariners, like any baseball team, make predominately baseball decisions. Real bold, Jack, real bold.

Re-signing Griffey is a statement that the 2010 Mariners are better off with him than without him. Since my off-season plan included re-signing Griffey, it's not too hard to figure out what I think of this move. It's excellent, and I'm especially glad it happened so fast.

Still, it's hard to say exactly what positive contributions the Mariners can expect from Griffey.

As far as on-field value goes, some point at Griffey's old age, steadily declining numbers, and virtually non-existent fielding, and argue he is living almost purely on his name value. Griffey was among the greatest of all-time in his prime, but he is now a decade removed from his glory days. The decline is bound to continue, to the point where he takes the spot of a more talented player.

Others point to the knee surgery Griffey just had, and say that is reason for hope. They also point to the 19 home runs he hit, as well as his place in the 600 home run club. Griffey still has a little power, even at 40 years old, and combines it with a tremendous eye. That's a weapon coming off the bench. There also is a good case to be made that Griffey had some bad luck last year. His BABIP was a paltry .222, well off his career mark of around .300. Those numbers suggest more of the balls he hit should have found holes.

Personally, I think Griffey will rebound slightly. The knee operation can't hurt. He won't have any worse luck than he had in 2009, as evidenced by his BABIP. However, the main reason his BABIP wasn't close to his career average is because he's nowhere close to the hitter he used to be. Griffey doesn't hit the ball as hard as he used to, plain and simple. You can tell that watching him play just as easily (if not more) as from any metric.

I expect Griffey's strikeouts and pop-ups to go up a little more in 2010, as he continues to get older, but the decline will likley be counteracted by better luck. So, an offensive performance slightly better than 2009 seems reasonable to me. As an everyday outfielder or DH, Griffey's .735 OPS from 2009 is tough to swallow. However, as a pinch-hitter, that's valuable, especially considering Griffey's prime weapons at this point are patience and power, the two weapons that comprise a threatening pinch hitter.

Plus, there is the whole "Griffey factor." At this point, Griffey's skillset isn't a ton different from the Phillies' Matt Stairs. However, if you are a pitcher, do you look at Matt Stairs the same way as Ken Griffey Jr? No way, no way at all. On some level, Griffey is still Griffey. He has just enough skills to remind everyone of what he used to be, and as long as he can do that, his past remains an intimidating factor in the back of a pitcher's head, and the opposing manager's mind. Whether it should be in the back of opponents' heads is debatable. That's not the issue at hand though. Griffey's past is in their heads, and so it has an impact that adds to Griffey's value.

Ultimately though, Griffey's situation fans the flames of another, bigger conversation ongoing in baseball: what's the value of clubhouse chemistry? Nobody denies that Griffey's presence was a huge positive in last year's clubhouse. There was much much more harmony, and many more smiles. Nobody denies that, and nobody denies that it was nice to see. However, does a more positive clubhouse produce more victories?

The cop-out answer is that, since no one has figured out how to quantify clubhouse chemistry, it is impossible to draw any firm conclusions. You could say the same about nutrition though. Nobody has concrete adjustments derived through statistical methods to account for the impact of a player's nutrition on their performance, yet it's fairly universally agreed upon that it is a good thing for players to eat more carrots than Red Vines.

That's a bit of an unfair comparison. Nutrition is a factor independent of specific personnel. Signing a "clubhouse guy," and giving him a roster spot over a potential up-and-coming prospect could result in a less talented team. That adds a little more urgency to place a quantifiable value on team chemistry.

The premise remains though - somehow, people have rationally deducted that better nutrition is worth pursuing in an effort to improve a team's performance. Similarly, just because there is no statistic to help predict clubhouse chemistry doesn't mean there is no way to rationally approach its value.

Consider 2009. Don Wakamatsu did some different things, especially by baseball standards. He talked a whole bunch about "belief systems," and feelings in general. Guys like Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Sweeney bought into it.

What if Griffey hadn't bought in? What if he had talked about how silly a belief system is, or how dumb it is? Guys like Rob Johnson and Michael Saunders certainly would have heard that, and likely become highly skeptical of anything Wakamatsu said. What young player wouldn't give Griffey's word credence, with all he has seen and accomplished? All of sudden, the players aren't very coachable. Progress halts. Promising prospects stop developing. Maybe players don't get worse, but they stop getting better. On a team with its best days still ahead, that's a problem. That's a big problem.

So, to say Ken Griffey Jr. doesn't have a place on a building team is wrong. He is important. The players would not have bought into Don Wakamatsu's system like they did without Griffey's presence, particularly as a fellow player.

The Mariners totally changed direction in 2009. It was a revolution by baseball standards, which is pretty rare. The franchise was in a free-fall at the end of 2008, and I would have been happy to just stop that last year. Instead, this team has some positive momentum. Griffey's clubhouse presence enabled such rapid progress, in conjunction with Wakamatsu and his coaching staff.

As far as I'm concerned, if a year was enough time to completely change direction, it's also enough time to unravel all the good that happened. 2009 was a season defined by positive changes. 2010 will be judged by how well the Mariners maintain their new ways, and continue to build on them.

I'm not saying the M's couldn't build on 2009 without Griffey. Wakamatsu wasn't going anywhere. However, taking away Griffey, one of the greatest enablers of the progress, would have been dangerous at this critical juncture in the process. It was an unnecessary risk to take, especially when Griffey wanted to come back at a reasonable price, and still provides value as a bench bat.

Plus, there is that whole iconic face-of-the-franchise/greatest player in team history/warm and fuzzy memories of the good ol' days thing. Not a bad throw-in with the deal.

It's good to have Junior back.

2009 Offseason Plan (v 1.1)

As the offseason unfolds, I will update the plan I would have if I were the Mariners GM. This would be version 1.0, but the JJ Hardy deal already messed with my grand scheme considerably. Hence, this is version 1.1. The list is in order from most to least important, though I woudn't work linearly. If a scenario pops up where I can only have one or the other though, the higher one prevails:

  1. Sign Felix Hernandez to a long-term extension. The time is NOW! My whole offseason would revolve around him. If a deal can't be worked out, it is time to explore trades involving him. The Bavasi bunch should have done this years ago, but here we are now, and he's going to get paid. The good news is that the M's only have about $40 million committed to the 2010 payroll. They have the flexibility to get this done. I'd prefer a four or five year deal, but I'd be willing to talk about six for Felix. Long-term contracts are risky, but I'm willing to gamble with Felix. He's still young, he does not have any documented arm problems, and he's way more than just a thrower. He's a fiery, competitive pitcher with a golden arm. I'll take my chances with that.
  2. Keep Jack Wilson. I thought a deal involving Brandon Morrow and JJ Hardy had some potential, but no longer. I'd still prefer to work out an extension with Wilson that would cut his 2010 salary, but with all the payroll room, it is possible to pick up the option. It's clear that he needs to come back at this point. There are no other options that fit the team well.
  3. Re-sign Adrian Beltre. The Mariners could use Matt Tuiasosopo or Jack Hannahan at third base, but neither are Adrian Beltre. He is still fairly young, still an unbelievable defender, and could be a bit of a bargain given the sub-par, injury-plagued year he just finished. Plus, word is that he was a clubhouse force.
  4. Re-sign Russell Branyan. Russell the muscle won't be the same bargain he was last year, but he will still be worth the money. However, I'd like to bring him back as the DH if possible. That hinges more on some other priorities, namely the next one...
  5. Add a bat, likely a first baseman, and likely through a trade. When I look at the roster, I see two prime trade chips: Brandon Morrow and Jose Lopez. If Beltre is re-signed, Matt Tuiasosopo can take over at second base. I think he will be a better defender, and he may not be much worse of a hitter. Somebody is bound to be intrigued by Lopez's power at second base. As for Morrow, I wonder if he will ever be a consistent starter, but teams would surely be interested in an arm of his caliber. I don't have a specific trade in mind, but my thought is to move Russell Branyan to DH, and acquire a first baseman (Russell isn't an incredible defender). Sean White and Mike Carp could also be part of a trade to get a first baseman.
  6. Add a reliable starting pitcher through a trade. Whoever isn't dealt to get a bat is used to get a starter. He wouldn't be an amazing one, just a solid one. Maybe Carlos Silva can be that guy, but I'm not counting on it. The free agent pitching market is really thin, so I like the chances of bringing in the answer via a trade. I'd give Ben Sheets a look, but virtually nobody else in free agency. I think the most realistic idea is to use Morrow to get a bat, and then Lopez to get a starting pitcher.
  7. Re-sign Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Sweeney. I think that clubhouse benefits tremendously from one more year out of both of them. Sweeney and Branyan split time at DH, though I think Branyan would play close to every day by also serving as the backup first baseman. Griffey would be the primary left-handed bench bat. If both players are willing to accept those roles, they come back. Super sub Bill Hall gives the M's the ability to carry a couple guys who may never play the field.
  8. Offer Erik Bedard a one-year MLB a reliever. The M's could use a lefty in the bullpen. Why not take a chance with Bedard? His stuff should translate really well into that role. The change should alleviate the injury concerns too. I have no idea what Bedard would think of this idea, but if the best he can get out of other clubs are spring training invitations, he would have to consider this deal. I've seen speculation that the Red Sox may take a chance on him though, like they did with Brad Penny and John Smoltz. That would not surprise me, and I think any guaranteed MLB contract with a promise to start would trump this offer.
  9. Sign some veteran catchers to minor league deals. I would definitely go with Rob Johnson and Adam Moore as the catchers, but Kenji's departure leaves the overall depth a little thin. Someone with experience that's willing to play in Tacoma most of the season would be best. I'm sure there are several backstops out there that fit the bill. Keep one or two of them after they all compete in spring training.
The Mariners have limitless ways they could go this offseason, given all their financial flexibility, and improved organizational depth. They don't have amazing in-house options in many places, but in most places they at least have someone. Realistically, someone unproven is going to get a chance to play. My idea is that left field is Michael Saunders's to lose, and if he does, he gives it to Ryan Langerhans. Then, it's down to either Mike Carp or Matt Tuiasosopo getting a chance, and between those two I'd prefer Tui.

Still, outside help could (and should) come too. With so many options, I think prioritizing is as important as anything. There will always be lots of irons in the fire, and keeping organized amidst the chaos may be difficult. This front office is up to the challenge though.