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Mariners Acquire Seth Smith, Erasmo Ramirez Watch Begins

The Seth Smith watch is officially over now that Seth Smith is a Seattle Mariner. The Padres shipped him to Seattle for Brandon Maurer.

This looks like a win-win deal. San Diego was in the market for bullpen help so the Mariners matched up very nicely with them. Maurer has a great arm that, out of the bullpen, rushes the ball up to the plate near 100 miles an hour. He also has some tantalizing secondary stuff, particularly a slider that sits near 90 mph. There are likely still some people who think Maurer could develop into a starter, but I gave on that dream several horrid showings ago. Still, he deserves to be in an MLB bullpen and it was hard to find him a spot in the M's loaded unit.

Smith, as I noted a few weeks ago, is a terrific platoon partner for Justin Ruggiano. Since Smith will be the platoon partner facing righties he will see more playing time, which allows Ruggiano to be a quasi reserve outfielder. His decent speed and defense could be assets off the bench.

The Mariners look quite a bit like a finished team at this point. Some want a strong backup for Logan Morrison at first base, and that would make some sense. However, it's pretty clear that DJ Peterson is the future at first base, and that future could come as early as this summer if needed. In the meantime, there are some promising reports on Jesus Montero this offseason. Perhaps he is enough of a stopgap if needed. Personally, I won't be disappointed if the Mariners roll the dice with LoMo and the first base options they have right now...

Erasmo Ramirez (UCinternational, Wikimedia
Commons via Keith Allison, Flickr)
...with one exception. I would offer Erasmo Ramirez to the Red Sox for Allen Craig and see what they say. Ramirez is out of options and doesn't have a clear spot on the Mariners roster, particularly with the addition of J.A. Happ. Boston signed guys like Justin Masterson to one-year deals to fill out their rotation and have a glut of hitters on their roster now after signing both Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. So, a Ramirez-for-Craig swap might make some sense for both sides. Craig also has experience playing the outfield, which would be a plus for the Mariners roster. The problem with Craig is his fast decline the past few years. The drop might be injury-related, and if it is he is a candidate for a strong comeback. However, at this point the Mariners can afford to take the risk because of the other hitters they have already acquired this offseason.

Here's how the M's roster could look with Allen Craig in the fold:

Starters
C Mike Zunino, 1B Logan Morrison, 2B Robinson Cano, SS Brad Miller, 3B Kyle Seager, LF Dustin Ackley, CF Austin Jackson, RF Seth Smith/Justin Ruggiano, DH Nelson Cruz

Bench
C Jesus Sucre, INF Willie Bloomquist, 1B/OF Allen Craig

Rotation
Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, J.A. Happ, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker

Bullpen
Fernando Rodney, Charlie Furbush, Tom Wilhelmsen, Danny Farquhar, Yoervis Medina, Dominic Leone, David Rollins

Depth in minor leagues
SS Chris Taylor, 1B Jesus Montero, 1B DJ Peterson, OF James Jones, OF Stefen Romero, LHP Roenis Elias, RHP Carson Smith

This is all hypothetical, and there are some spring training battles brewing (those battles are for future posts), but the picture and festering issues are clear enough. Even with Erasmo Ramirez out of the picture it's virtually impossible to find a way for a few quality arms to make the Mariners roster. Even if they don't keep Rollins, their rule 5 pick, that still leaves a guy like Carson Smith in Tacoma.

I don't see a great fit for Erasmo Ramirez on the Mariners roster, but I think he has value to other teams. So, since I feel emboldened by the Seth Smith watch, I hereby declare that the Erasmo Ramirez watch has begun. Trading Ramirez is not as blatantly obvious of a move as acquiring Seth Smith, but it's obvious enough to watch for it. What's more interesting is who the Mariners might get in return. I would go after Allen Craig but I suppose we will see what does (or doesn't) happen.

Just How Cramped is the 2015 Hall of Fame Ballot?

It's that magical time of the year where Hall of Fame voting occurs, which in recent memory has been the annual battle to get Edgar Martinez's incredible hitting accomplishments recognized. Edgar is my favorite player ever - a title he has a good chance of holding my whole life - so I am heavily biased. My love of him has probably only increased with the Hall of Fame battle he finds himself in. Others, such as the incomparable Jay Jaffe, bang the drum for Edgar every year, so I won't repeat my case for him.

However, Edgar's predicament has driven me to investigate the Hall of Fame in much more detail than ever before. This year's ballot is noted for how bloated it is, and I decided to see if it really is as clogged as many claim.

I started my investigation with a basic premise. There are two basic ways to get to the Hall of Fame: compile all-time great numbers over a long career, or without the counting stats, have an amazing peak that compares with the all-time greats. Career WAR can measure the compilers, and a simple best single-season WAR goes a long way towards describing a player's peak. Essentially, I approximated Jay Jaffe's JAWS stat by splitting it into its two core parts and treating those parts as an ordered pair. Below are the results:

Career bWAR vs. Single-season best bWAR
Current HOF (blue) and 2015 Candidates (red)


To start with, I was surprised at how compact the data is. I expected less of a relationship; in other words I expected more diversity (some players with mediocre peaks that played forever and some players without great careers that had absurd peaks). I do not know how much of this behavior is due to voting preference, but I would expect quite a bit of it. Anecdotally, different voters prefer different Hall of Fame sizes and different kinds of Hall of Fame careers, but a general consensus is forced by requiring 75% of ballots to name someone a Hall of Famer.

It's somewhat hard to see with the naked eye, but the relationship between season best and career WARs is more logarithmic than linear. That means career bWARs increase exponentially faster than single season bests with increasing larger bWAR totals. This phenomena is likely caused by a couple factors. First of all, it might be possible for a player to only be so phenomenal in one season, and all-time greats stay at that level longer than other players. This would result in a career bWAR that compiles every larger without creating a new standard for a season best bWAR. The second option is that Hall of Fame voters favor career accomplishments over phenomenal peaks at a predictable rate. I haven't looked into non-Hall of Famers, but that might be an interesting study to do at some point. My guess is that the relationship in this graph is caused more by the limits of how good a player can be than any voting bias.

Simple looking at the graph with a naked eye it's easy to identify four obvious Hall of Famers - Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martinez. Bonds and Clemens remain mired in PED purgatory, which creates the initial problem with this year's ballot. In normal circumstances Bonds and Clemens would have sailed into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, but now their vote totals (or lack thereof) provide a barometer every year for how tolerant the voting bloc is of steroid use at the turn of the millenium.

Johnson and Martinez are newcomers to the ballot, neither with PED controversy around them, so they should theoretically sail through this year, emphasis theoretically.

The Big Unit's career, at least by peak and career WAR totals, is most similar to the likes of Tom Seaver, Lefty Grove, and Christy Mathewson, which is quite the trio. Mathewson went in as part of the first HoF class ever. Tom Seaver was also a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer and still holds the record for highest percentage of ballots (98.8%). Lefty Grove, though comparable to these pitchers, made it to the Hall in his fourth year of eligibility. So, who knows what kind of vote total Randy Johnson will end up with, but he's a strong candidate for enshrinement on his first try.

Pedro Martinez has two remarkably similar peers in the Hall of Fame already, Bob Gibson and Fergie Jenkins. Gibson went in on his first ballot with 84% of the vote, and Jenkins made it on his third try. It seems like many think Pedro is a given to make it on his first try, but I am not so certain. I agree that he should go in on his first try, but his case rests on a tremendous peak with nice, but not legendary, career totals. Neither Gibson nor Jenkins seem like borderline Hall of Famers at this point, but when they were voted on neither garnered phenomenal vote totals. Perhaps Pedro gets more votes than either of them because his iconic seasons came in the heat of the PED era, making him the first to get a bump from the era instead of a penalty, but Hall of Fame standards also keep escalating. I am curious to see Pedro's vote total, and I don't consider him a shoo-in to make it on his first try.

After that, there are lots of red dots on the chart well within the pack of "typical" Hall-of-Famers. Easily more than 10 dots, which speaks to the crowded ballot. It will simply be hard for players to get to the 75% line with so many viable candidates to choose from. So, theoretically, the players most "central" on the graph have the best chance - those who had both high peaks and lengthy careers. They have the kind of candidacies which should appeal to a broad enough swath of voters to cut through the backlog and make it into Cooperstown.

I found the median career bWAR for a Hall of Famer, and the median peak bWAR for a Hall of Famer, and then divided each individual player's WAR totals by the median to get a scaled score of how good they are relative to other Hall-of-Famers. Any number over 1 represents a player with a WAR total better than the Hall of Fame median. Below is the list of players who have above-average peak and career bWAR totals on this year's ballot, with their overall score (both peak and career scaled totals added) and their percentage on last year's ballot:

  1. Barry Bonds (4.1, 34.7%)
  2. Roger Clemens (3.8, 35.4%)
  3. Randy Johnson (3.0, N/A)
  4. Pedro Martinez (2.8, N/A)
  5. Larry Walker (2.4, 10.2%)
  6. Curt Schilling (2.4, 29.2%)
  7. Mike Mussina (2.4, 20.3%)
  8. Jeff Bagwell (2.3, 54.3%)
  9. Craig Biggio (2.2, 74.8%)
  10. Alan Trammell (2.2, 20.8%)
Only Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson are newcomers to this list, which is mind-boggling when you think about it. These are players who had more productive careers AND better individual seasons than the CURRENT MEDIAN HALL-OF-FAMER. None of these 10 players should even be borderline cases - no matter a voter's preference for long-term success or a high peak - yet only two of the eight on this list that were on last year's ballot got over 50%. In fact, both Walker and Trammel seem likely to fall off the ballot altogether without sniffing enshrinement. Furthermore, only Bonds and Clemens have legitimate PED implications, though it seems that Jeff Bagwell has been lumped in with the PED crowd just because a bunch of voters feel like it.

It's lazy to blame the current glut on PED use. The steroid era certainly contributes, but the voting bloc has largely passed judgement already. Bonds and Clemens would already be Hall of Famers with well over 90% of the vote if not for steroid use. So, based on their vote totals, roughly 2/3 of voters won't even consider a steroid user no matter their career accomplishments - more than enough to keep any confirmed steroid user out of the Hall of Fame, and enough to have already cleansed the ballot of many PED users.

For fun, let's say that absolutely nobody voted for Bonds and Clemens on the 2015 ballot and instead put all their votes towards another player on the ballot. Only Biggio and Bagwell would get big enough boosts to make the Hall. Everyone else would still fall short,* even though nobody else with more than 20% of votes has PED suspicions in their past.

*Assuming that everyone who voted for Clemens also voted for Bonds, meaning there aren't 70% worth of votes to go around, but more like 35%. I would argue this is an extremely reasonable assumption.

The BBWAA, subconsciously, has turned into a club characterized by grumpy, cantankerous old men who I am convinced did not even watch the careers of most players on today's Hall of Fame ballots, and certainly does not bother to look at the production they accumulated over their illustrious careers. How else can some of these vote totals be explained? In what world do Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling have to fight to stay on the Hall of Fame ballot? Especially Schilling, with his Cy Young awards and fabled bloody sock to go with his Hall of Fame caliber stats. What exactly are 80% of these voters looking for?

As much as I want to argue in favor of Edgar Martinez, I am not sure I would even keep him on the Hall of Fame ballot with how crowded it is at the moment. The BBWAA, for whatever reason, has decided the Hall of Fame is pretty much closed. The current debates are pathetic and should not even be debates. There are blatant Hall-of-Famers who won't even sniff enshrinement this year, or the foreseeable future, until the complexion of the voting body changes. Good luck fixing the Hall of Fame with this group of voters.

Pirates Steal Kang?

KBO branding! (Mori Chan, Flickr via Wikimedia Commons)
The Pittsburgh Pirates, for just a shade north of $5 million, won negotiating rights for Korean infielder Jung-ho Kang. This move has virtually no bearing on the Mariners and may prove to have little bearing on the Pirates or Major League Baseball in 2014. Truth is, nobody really knows what Kang might do in the major leagues, and that's the main point of this post.

Here is what's known about Kang. He has played in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO, South Korea's equivalent of MLB) and walloped pitchers for years. This past season Kang posted an absurd .356/.459/.739 triple slash line with 40 home runs in 117 games. He also posted these monstrous numbers while playing shortstop. Shockingly, Kang was named MVP.

The KBO does not feature the same talent level as Major League Baseball, or Japan's professional leagues for that matter. However, after that, it's hard to find a much better league. Furthermore, South Korea has shown well in the World Baseball Classic, for what that is worth. The real challenge here for statisticians and scouts alike is that nobody has jumped from the KBO to the big leagues like Kang is poised to do. Unsurprisingly, scouting reports on him vary from potential impact bat in the middle of the diamond to mediocre reserve that lacks the tools to play shortstop or second base in the majors.

I am no more qualified than anyone else to pass judgement on Jung-ho Kang. In fact, I have not seen any video on him and I have no way of converting KBO stats into major league equivalencies. Google "Jung-ho Kang" and see if you can find more meaningful analysis of him as a player than I have already provided. Right now, I am more interested in the idea of Jung-ho Kang - and I am surprised the idea of Kang only cost a little more than $5 million to negotiate with. Other players shrouded in mystery - ideas, as I am calling them in this post - have fetched more money.

Let's start with the Mariners. They forked over $13 million in 2000 to talk to Ichiro, which in hindsight seems like a steal. It was. However, at the time, there had not been an impact bat that migrated to MLB from Japan, and Ichiro didn't necessarily have skills that would translate well. He lived off of of singles. He was a glorified slap-hitter. There was uncertainty over whether he could consistently make contact against MLB pitching and especially if he had the bat speed to pull big league fastballs. Still, the Mariners bet on the idea of Ichiro - that arguably the greatest hitter in Japanese history could also hit in the major leagues - and the bet worked out.

Fast forward to Yoenis Cespedes and the Athletics. Cespedes was not the first Cuban to ever play in the Majors, but it was still surprising when he signed a 4 year, $36 million contract, particularly with the thrifty A's. Oakland couldn't have had great data to work with because of the nature of Cuban baseball and Cuban-American relations*. The general consensus is that Cuban baseball is among the best in the world, but measures of their greatness are very hard to discern given how little access they have to Americans and vice-versa. It's simply hard to get enough measuring sticks to known talents. The Athletics had to be sold on the idea of Cespedes - that a freakishly gifted athlete known as one of the best talents in Cuba could also emerge as a great player in MLB without much development. He did, and paved the way for the burgeoning contracts heaped upon Cubans, most recently Yasmany Tomas.

*At least up until this past week!

Kang is the latest unknown. A risk-averse franchise could easily justify passing on him. There is no way to know exactly how his skills will translate, or if they will at all. He could be a product of small ballparks. He could lack bat speed. Perhaps the MLB game will be too fast for him to adequate defend up the middle. These are all reasonable assumptions. They might all be probable outcomes. Baseball is largely a game of failure. A league-average batter makes outs twice as often as they reach base. Well less than half of players drafted, even in the first 10 rounds, ever even make the majors.

The high failure rate is exactly why more teams should have gambled on Kang's potential. The question, in my mind, is not so much how well Kang will do, but how much is worth investing in such an unknown in baseball's current climate. Team's can't spend like they used to in the draft, and the continued cashflow from baseball's obscene new TV contracts is driving free agent contracts up at rapid rates. Moreover, the analytics revolution in baseball have made both the amateur draft and free agency more efficient markets - in other words, marketplaces where teams are more likely to get what they pay for than ever before.

Kang represents the possibility for a market inefficiency - a bargain, in other words. Yes, he comes with risks, but really, how much of a risk did the Pirates take? What else could they have done with $5 million? For perspective, the Mariners will pay Willie Bloomquist $3 million this season. Willie Bloomquist, he of no power at all and mediocre middle infield defense. Kang will cost more, but he comes with much more upside. What if he can hit 15 dingers with middling defense at second base? Even with something like a .260 batting average and .320 OBP? That's an everyday second baseman in today's MLB environment, and everyday players are worth around $10 million on the open market these days.

Pittsburgh has bet on the idea of Kang - that a slugging shortstop from Korea can be an MLB contributor. Recent history has been kind to franchises that took these types of risks. There is a price point where the risk on Kang does not make sense, but it is north of $5 million in my eyes. Perhaps it will take a huge contract to sign him and he won't be a steal, but I doubt that. Pittsburgh just took a risk that many other teams should have taken.

Ruggiano Acquired, Seth Smith Watch Begins

proof that Seth Smith plays the outfield
(Julio Enriquez, Flickr via Wikemedia Commons)
The Mariners made a small move today that they tried to play as a big one by sending out a bulk e-mail about it to fans. They acquired OF Justin Ruggiano from the Cubs for minor league pitcher Matt Brazis.

Let's start with Brazis. He is a 25-year-old righty bullpen arm that put up some great numbers split between High Desert and Jackson. However, he is already a bullpen arm, and a bit old for the leagues he was playing in. He could prove to be replacement level bullpen arm in the majors, but it's doubtful he turns into much more. The Mariners farm system remains in tact.

Then again, the Mariners didn't acquire an incredible talent either, though Ruggiano brings some needed skills. Ruggiano, now 32 years old, broke through a few seasons ago with a surprising second-half surge in Miami. He has never duplicated that magical half-season, but he continues to flash a surprising power-speed combo with limited contact and on-base skills. He combines that with an adequate outfield glove that's even capable of playing in center field. Basically, Ruggiano is a poor team's version of Michael Saunders - or, perhaps a mirror image of Saunders. Ruggiano bats right-handed, seemingly a requirement for the Mariners to pursue a batter these days.

Justin Ruggiano is not an everyday player for a contending team, though his skillset would be very nice to have on the bench. With that said, finding Ruggiano a platoon partner could work out nicely. His wRC+ for his career against lefties is 128, while against righties it is 94. If you aren't familiar with wRC+, a score of 100 is league average. Ruggiano doesn't have a massive split, and he's not a black hole against righties, but he's clearly better against lefties. Moreover, he's better enough, and in the right talent range, that the little edge is the difference between a bench player and a bona fide starter.

So, it would make good sense for the Mariners to find another corner outfielder with a complimentary split. Enter Seth Smith of the San Diego Padres, who I will admit I have been a longtime fan of. I love his swing and overall offensive game. It should play nicely in Safeco Field. Smith, for his career, has a 123 wRC+ against righties and a suicidal 63 wRC+ against lefties. That is a truly massive platoon split, and it's so crippling (given Smith's below-average defense) that it pretty much makes Smith a role player.

Smith, by the way, should be available in the very near future. The Padres have rumored deals complete for Matt Kemp and Wil Myers, both corner outfielders at this point. There would be no logical place for Smith to play, and given his non-prospect status without a role on the Padres, he should not cost the M's a top prospect.

If the Mariners acquired Smith and paired him intelligently with Ruggiano, they are looking at slightly below average defense with a 120 wRC+ in right field. For comparison, Saunders posted a 126 wRC+ last season with above average defense. Saunders is still the better option, but at least at the dish he would not be missed too badly in this scenario.

So let the Seth Smith watch begin, because at this point he's the guy that makes both the Saunders and Ruggiano trades make sense. I still despise the Saunders-Happ trade, but I would tip my cap to Zduriencik if he finds a way to string together a decent everyday right-fielder out of non-premium prospects.

No Melky, Probably a Problem, But We Shall See

Dexter Fowler (Wikimedia Commons, author EricEnfermero)
The White Sox signed Melky Cabrera to a 3-year, $42 million deal. Why the Mariners could not match or better this deal is beyond me. I had really warmed to the idea of Melky replacing Michael Saunders* because the Mariners are a team worth spending money on.

*For the record, I fully expect the Saunders-Happ deal to turn out badly. I do not like that deal at all. Happ is a rental that might turn out to be the M's sixth best starter. Now they have a hole in the outfield. Happ is also older, more expensive, and on a shorter contract than Saunders. Happ is a decent lefty. I don't expect him to bomb, but the trade is still remarkably bad.

The Mariners really need a right fielder and the free agent market looks pretty barren at this point. Jack Zduriencik will do something, and at this point I have resigned myself to the fact that either Taijuan Walker or James Paxton will be peddled for an "impact" bat. The only realistic impact target is Justin Upton, who is a free agent after 2015 and only unblocked the M's from his no-trade clause this past year. I like Upton, but do not like the idea of trading a premium prospect for him, all things considered.

There are some other options though! None of them are as good as Michael Saunders, but we no longer live in a world where Michael Saunders exists on the Mariners roster. With a little creativity the M's could find a nice right-fielder though. Some ideas:

  • Justin Upton - The Braves are significantly retooling, and behind closed doors I bet they would admit that they do not care how competitive they are in 2015. The Nationals are really good right now, but face some contract crunches after next season. So, I bet Atlanta really cares about being good in 2016. That makes Justin Upton rather expendable. The problem is that he probably costs either Walker or Paxton, unless Zduriencik gets creative. Personally, I wonder what would happen if the Mariners took on both Justin and B.J. Upton. Would absorbing those contracts only cost Erasmo Ramirez and a lower level prospect or two?
  • B.J. Upton - Mancrushes die hard, I suppose, because I still see a glimmer of hope in B.J. He remains an adequate defender in center field, which means he is a good candidate to be an above average defender in right. Furthermore, B.J. still sports one of the highest walk rates in baseball and he still steals bases at an above average rate. Upton is also only 30 years old, which is easy to forget with how long he has been around in the big leagues. I would not want to count on B.J. Upton to be an everyday player on a contending team, but I bet he could be had for very cheap and a change of scenery back to the American League might help him find a bit of his dynamic form from his Tampa years.
  • Dexter Fowler - Truth be told, this is the guy I would target if I were in Jack Z's shoes at this point. He is a free agent after the 2015 season, which should suppress his trade value some. I would dangle Erasmo Ramirez and I would think that the Astros would have to listen and think about that deal long and hard. Fowler is a remarkalby similar player to Melky Cabrera, believe it or not. Both are switch-hitters with similar production profiles. Fowler was worth 17.3 runs of offense according to Fangraphs, which compares quite favorably to Melky's 16.0 runs. Fowler's defense grades out worse - but only slightly worse than Cabrera while playing center field, which is a more demanding defensive position. Fowler should not be a center fielder anyway. He could be moved to right field and has a decent chance to be as productive as Melky Cabrera - and for only a shade under $6 million.
  • Allen Craig - Craig absolutely tanked last year, but was a solid 2+ WAR player for three seasons prior. However, many trends in his stats are troubling, in particular a long and precipitous fall in his power numbers. Craig would be a borderline reclamation project, which means he should not be depending on as a cog in a contending team's lineup. However, if the Mariners can't find anyone else, this would be one of their best gambles. He might be worth gambling on even if the M's find someone else for right field, particularly if they can get him for something like Stefen Romero and an organizational depth arm - a guy like Jordan Pries.
  • Colby Rasmus - The Mariners probably won't sign Rasmus, but they should consider it. Defensive ratings fluctuate wildly for him, but he remains very athletic and in his prime at 28 years old, plus he has played center field his whole career. He has a good chance to grade out as a good (or even great) right fielder. Rasmus also packs some thump in his bat, though it comes with an absurd amount of strikeouts. Rasmus is left-handed and sports a large platoon split, so that's enough to probably strike him from the M's thoughts. However, I would look at signing him and sitting him against lefties. Nelson Cruz can play right in those instances, and maybe that's enough outfield time to keep Cruz happy.
In general, my strategy and preference is to find a center fielder and convert him to right field. I think the Mariners could find some hidden value there - or, at the very least, I prefer to take a gamble on someone making that transition instead of someone who is already trying to hang on as a corner outfielder. With that said, my sinking fear is that the Mariners will acquire Dayan Viciedo from the White Sox and make him the next Carl Everett** or (gasp) maybe even the next Brad Wilkerson.

**Never forget the RALLY DINO!

Seager Staying Put

...Or, alternatively, Mariners Prove Even Mariners Can Produce AND Keep Home-Grown Position Player.

Kyle Seager (Wikemedia Commons, User UCInternational. Source: Flickr, author hj_west)
Reports surfaced this morning that the Mariners and Kyle Seager are placing the finishing touches on a 7-year, $100 million deal with an option for a $20 million eighth year. Year-by-year totals aren't available yet (and may never be officially available; Zduriencik tends to be tight-lipped) but presumably the annual money escalates for at least a little while. This deal buys out all three of Seager's arbitration years and then four of his free agency seasons. Seager is now under contract until he is 33 years old, ensuring his entire prime is played in navy and teal.

The real significance in Seager's deal comes from the dearth of contracts to players like Seager for a long, long time. However, first, the deal itself is very good for the Mariners.

Reports also surfaced this morning that both Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval signed with the Red Sox, for 4 years-$88 million and 5 years-$90 million respectively. Ramirez is four years older than Seager and produced 3.4 fWAR last season, compared to Seagers 5.5 fWAR. Sandoval is only a little over a year older than Seager and posted a 3.0 fWAR.

Simply put, both Ramirez and Sandoval are older, inferior to Seager's overall talent level right now, and still earned average annual values in their contract right around what Seager might make in his option year, which is presumably a peak annual value. While I would expect Seager's deal to be cheaper annually because all three of his arbitration years were bought out, it is clear that the free agent seasons bought out in his contract are still well under the current going rate for starting infielders of his caliber. Financially, Seager's contract is a great deal for the Mariners.

However, the real significance of this contract comes from the echoes of Mariners history...and the echoes go on for a long time. The hallway of homegrown hitters signed to contract extensions has a long, bleak stretch that spanned unblemished until today.

Consider this stunning, depressing, and amazing fact: Kyle Seager is only the second home-grown position player the Mariners have signed to a contract extension that was drafted in my lifetime. The other is Ken Griffey Jr. and he barely counts. I was born in January 1987 and he was drafted that June. I don't particularly remember him being drafted, though of course remember him playing. Also, Griffey's extension was nothing like Seager's. It was not a long-term deal and he ultimately signed a long-term extension upon a trade to the Cincinnati Reds.

Now, if you are like me, you are probably asking, "but what about (insert several M's hitters)?" Here are those answers:

  • Jay Buhner: Not home-grown. Acquired in a trade with the Yankees, forever captured in a Seinfeld episode.
  • Ichiro: Debatably could be included, though I wouldn't say he was developed by the Mariners. He signed as an international free agent, never spent a day in the minors, and was the AL MVP in his first MLB season after making the jump. He was a free agent acquisition in my eyes.
  • Edgar Martinez: Signed as a 16-year-old in 1982, before I was born.
  • Dan Wilson: Not home-grown. Acquired in a trade with the Reds.
There are also the hitters that got away. The Mariners had some chances, a few more obvious than others:
  • Jose Cruz Jr: Had a decent career - elsewhere, after he was traded to the Jays for bullpen depth.
  • Raul Ibanez: Allowed to walk for nothing and emerge with the Royals, before coming back to Seattle a couple times.
  • Tino Martinez: Traded to the Yankees, after becoming an All-Star in Seattle, for Russ Davis and Sterling Hitchcock.
  • David Ortiz: Traded to the Twins for Dave Hollins, though Ortiz was a raw prospect and a no-name at the time of the trade.
  • Jason Varitek: Traded to the Red Sox (along with Derek Lowe) for Heathcliff Slocumb. Never forget.
  • Alex Rodriguez: Undeniable talent, but hard to argue the M's ultimately lost out when he signed with Texas.
The list could grow with names such as Bret Boone added, but he was traded for Dan Wilson, so that seems harsh and not really in the spirit of this post. Boone was not a missed opportunity; he was a trade chip for another long-term piece (and he even came back and enjoyed his best seasons in Seattle anyway).

The Mariners are maligned for their inability to produce hitting prospects, and to a degree they have earned that reputation. However, they had several chances to lock up home-grown hitters the past quarter century, and for one reason or another, never did.

Until today. Kyle Seager, Mariner for life. Today, Kyle Seager transitioned from lovable surprise and a secret of the Pacific Northwest to one of the core position players in all of Mariners history. He will go down as one of the best to ever play in Seattle thanks to this contract.

Making Sense of the Hanley Rumors

Hanley Ramirez (Wikimedia Commons, user TonyTheTiger)
The Mariners, reportedly, have shown initial interest in SS Hanley Ramirez. This makes little sense at first glance, and it is important to qualify that rumors are rumors. Many whispers, particularly this time of year, come from agents trying to drive up the price tag on their players. The Mariners say they have money to spend and they want right-handed hitters, so it is possibly (if not likely) in the rumor source's best interest to say that the Mariners are interested in Hanley Ramirez.

Likewise, the Mariners should be interested in Hanley at the right price. If he signs a league minimum with the M's, who would complain? However, hidden underneath the "interest" is the deeper question about money. Would Hanley be worth the money it takes to sign him? That's a tougher question to answer, but the more I look at Hanley, the more I like him as a free agent target.

To start with, Hanley is somewhere between a good and great hitter. He has some power but his real value is in finding the gaps with a nice average and on-base percentage, not unlike Robinson Cano. Fangraphs estimates that Hanley's offense was worth 21.8 runs last year,* which is in line with his career averages and somewhere between good and great.

*For context, Fangraphs estimates that Kyle Seager's offense was worth 16.4 runs last year and Cano's 28.8 runs.

Ramirez also plays shortstop, a premium defensive position, though he has never been noted as a good defender (or all that bad either.) Chris Taylor is certainly a better defender than Hanley, and Brad Miller is arguably a better one too. Hanley could potentially switch over to third base or left field (he's reportedly willing to do either), but he certainly won't supplant Kyle Seager and even Dustin Ackley isn't a gimme to be supplanted anymore at this point. It's hard to imagine Ramirez playing a better left field than Ackley, which means he would have to outhit by a sizeable margin. He might do that, but at that point is the financial burden worth it?

However, Hanley Ramirez is a good enough hitter that he might still make good sense. He compares quite well against the popular Mariners target in rumor circles, Victor Martinez. V-Mart makes perfect sense. He's already a full-time DH and he absolutely raked last season. Martinez is the seemingly natural fit for the Mariners.

Indeed, Martinez was amazing last season. His offense was worth a whopping 40.7 runs last season, the 7th highest total in all of baseball. But the 2014 version of Victor Martinez has come and gone. The real question is what the 2015 version will do...

...and the odds are that 2015 V-Mart will be a good hitter, but not 2014 good. He just enjoyed the best season he will ever have. Martinez's best offensive season before 2014 was 2009 when he got traded from Cleveland to Boston and totaled a value of 20.4 runs. Yes, Victor's 2014 was literally twice as good as any other season he ever had.

It would be foolish to project anything beyond a value of 20 offensive runs from Victor Martinez, which, coincidentally is right around what Hanley Ramirez produced in 2014 in what was a rather normal season by his standards. Additionally, Hanley Ramirez is six years younger than Victor Martinez and can still play some defense around the diamond.

Hanley's relative youth is likely to get him a longer deal than Victor Martinez, but there is no guarantee a team will have to pay Hanley more per year than Victor at this point. The free agent market is in its infant stages and still developing. Who knows what happens.

For now, I would hope that the Mariners have reached out to Hanley Ramirez. If they are hellbent on getting a right-handed slugger for Safeco Field, I would much rather have Ramirez than Martinez if the annual salaries are close to equal. Of course, I would probably pass on both of them at the prices they are likely to demand, but if Victor Martinez makes sense for the Mariners then Hanley Ramirez makes even more sense for them.

Mariners 2015 Offseason Plan

Yoenis Cespedes
(Kieth Allison, wikimedia commons)
It is impossible to say what the Mariners will do this offseason. The free agent and trade markets are too dynamic. So, instead of fearless predictions, I offer the strategy I would put together if I were Jack Zduriencik with targets that fit the plan.

The Mariners have the luxury of finally having a pretty decent team without a ton of glaring holes. That gives them some flexibility and I am curious to see how they use it. Here is how I would go about the offseason:
  • Pick up Hisashi Iwakuma's 2015 option ($7 million): Total no-brainer here. One of the best deals in Major League Baseball. The rotation looks pretty solid with Iwakuma back in the fold. It would go something like this:
  1. King Felix
  2. James Paxton
  3. Hisashi Iwakuma
  4. Taijuan Walker
  5. Roenis Elias
Yes, I'd put Paxton second, for a couple reasons. First, his power stuff from the left side contrasts with both Felix and Kuma's deadly offspeed repertoire from the right side. Second, Paxton, Walker, and Elias all are yet to prove they consistently get deep into ballgames. I want some more certain rest for the bullpen spread throughout the rotation instead of bunched up at the top.

  • Sign a DH. The market isn't great for hitters but the Mariners can take advantage of the DH and get someone serviceable at a reasonable price. Aging sluggers that are defensive/injury liabilities won't get much attention from NL clubs. The Mariners could dangle an offer for significant playing time on a potential playoff contender, instead of a chance to pinch hit every now and then. That should appeal to some batters. I would prefer an aging slugger with defensive liabilities because I think that's the kind of player who can have an impact on a cost-effective, short-term deal. My targets, in order of preference:
  1. Josh Willingham: Willingham finished the year on KC's bench and never saw the light of day with Ned Yost's..."steady hand" at the helm. He should have played more than he did. Still, Willingham is about to turn 36 years and has never been noted for his defense. Willingham brings power and on-base skills from the right side, and because he got buried on the Royals bench he might come a bit cheaper.
  2. Victor MartinezClearly, V-Mart is the most talented option, but I cringe at how much money (and the length of the deal!) that would pry him out of Detroit. Plus, he won't duplicate 32 home runs ever again, meaning he hits the market at a peak value he'll never reach again. The Mariners don't need an albatross of a contract sitting at DH.
  3. Billy Butler: Butler played ahead of Willingham for the Royals but that doesn't mean he's the better hitter. Butler doesn't have Willingham's power and his eye seems to be deserting him too. Plus, thanks to all the playing time in the middle of the order of a World Series team, Butler will probably be more expensive - thought not by much since he's perceived as a pure DH. Butler is only 28 years old, so perhaps he can bounce back with a change of scenery, but I still like Willingham better. I'm not looking for a long-term option at DH - and if I am, I might as well pay a clearly superior Victor Martinez.
  4. Mike Morse: Would the Mariners dare a third try with Morse? He has hit for power when he's not with the Mariners and makes some good sense at a reasonable price if he can put a season more like his ones in Washington and San Francisco. Third time's a charm?
  5. Michael Cuddyer: The Rockies, interestingly, put a qualifying offer on Cuddyer, which jacks up the price for signing him quite a bit. It's too high of a price, in my opinion, given his age and mounting injury history.
  • Dangle Michael Saunders and Yoervis Medina in a trade for a corner outfielder. I really like Michael Saunders, but I wonder how much damage the M's did when they questioned his work ethic publicly. It might make sense for Jack Z to shop him around and avoid any awkward tension next season. Along with that, the M's bullpen already has too many good arms. I would ship out Medina, but really just about any arm would do. My trade targets:
  1. Yoenis Cespedes: Boston might shop Cespedes because he has only a year before free agency. He brings a thunderous right-handed bat and is also cost-friendly at only $9 million. Given all the affordable team controlled years Boston adds in a deal for Saunders and Medina this is a trade that makes quite a bit sense and could happen.
  2. Matt Kemp: Kemp isn't the defender he used to be, but he had a very good season at the dish. If he can be convinced to move to a corner outfield spot, and the Dodgers take on a hefty chunk of what he's owed, this deal could make some sense. The Mariners could kick in a prospect like Tyler Marlette to knock the price tag down further.
  3. Marcell Ozuna: Everyone talks about Giancarlo Stanton, but Ozuna patrols Miami's outfield with Giancarlo and has quietly developed in a hurry. This is probably wishful thinking on my part. There's no reason the Marlins would trade him (or should trade him), but I would at least ask. Maybe they'll be pleasantly surprised that someone called and did not ask for Stanton.
  • Take a chance on a bench player. I would look to add a player who projects as a bench bat but could turn into a regular contributor one way or another. I would look for ways to add some upside. Basically this is my way of carving out some room for bats that intrigue me. My targets:
  1. Colby Rasmus: Rasmus had a disastrous 2014 campaign but still posted a positive WAR. He has contact issues but also offers power with legitimate defense in center field. He could provide nice outfield depth and compliment a right-handed DH well.
  2. Yasmani Tomas: The 24-year-old Cuban slugger is unproven and will likely cost a good amount of money. However, if he's a little more like Cespedes and a little less like Dayan Viciedo, he will be a wise investment. This would be a risky move but could give the Mariners a power bat locked up at a reasonable price for a long time. He wouldn't be a bench bat if he pans out, but for 2015 he could make sense on the bench as he figures out life in the Major Leagues.
  • Sign David Ross...or a similar legitimate backup catcher. I'd like to see Zunino get some more games off. Ross is a veteran with solid defense and a power stroke with holes in his swing. He would be similar to Zunino and might even serve as a decent mentor for Zunino as he develops into a star.
Here is what my potential 2015 Mariners would look like:

STARTING LINEUP
  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Robinson Cano, 2B
  3. Yoenis Cespedes, RF
  4. Kyle Seager, 3B
  5. Josh Willingham, DH
  6. Logan Morrison, 1B
  7. Mike Zunino, C
  8. Brad Miller/Chris Taylor, SS
  9. Dustin Ackley, LF
BENCH
  • Colby Rasmus, OF
  • Willie Bloomquist, INF
  • David Ross, C
  • (Miller or Taylor, depending on who is starting)
STARTING ROTATION
  1. Felix Hernandez
  2. James Paxton
  3. Hisashi Iwakuma
  4. Taijuan Walker
  5. Roenis Elias
BULLPEN
  • Tom Wilhelmsen
  • Joe Beimel
  • Dominic Leone
  • Carson Smith
  • Charlie Furbush
  • Danny Farquhar
  • Fernando Rodney
The lineup is deceptively good, especially if the Miller/Taylor shortstop duo and Mike Zunino take steps forward. There shouldn't be an automatic out, and that might go a long way with what could be a dominant pitching staff if Paxton, Walker, and Elias realize the potential they flashed at times in 2014. The projected lineup could be a league-average lineup, especially in the current environment that is so pitcher-friendly. It is also more balanced, which should make it less susceptible to southpaws. Also, who wouldn't want to watch the show Cespedes puts on in batting practice??

Mariners Offseason Primer

Robinson Cano (Wikimedia Commons, user EricEnfermero)
The Royals' magical run to the World Series was fun to watch, though bittersweet. They, for all intents and purposes, were the 2014 Seattle Mariners. Flawed offense, great defense, and a monster bullpen...sound familiar? Over 162 games they were a whopping 2 wins better than the Mariners despite a worse run differential. Still, I don't have an icy enough sports soul to get angry over a franchise shut out from the postseason for 29 seasons, literally since before I was born.

With that said, the Mariners are closer to the playoffs than they have been in over a decade. Sure, there were a couple fluky winning seasons sprinkled in, but 2014 does not look like a fluke. The Mariners did not beat their expected win total by an absurd amount like the ill-fated team that convinced Bill Bavasi the Mariners only needed Erik Bedard to win the World Series. They also aren't as asymmetric as the surprising 2009 squad that tried to push the extremes of pitching and defense with a worst-case result spitting out in 2010 (and 2011, and 2012 for that matter too). The offense is still bad, but not 2010-2012 bad.

I am interested to see how the M's offseason unfolds. It seems hard to predict for many reasons. Do free agents see Seattle as more of a destination now? Possibly. How much money do the Mariners have to play with as the Root Sports TV money comes in?

Most importantly, where exactly will the Mariners upgrade the team? The team can improve, but (thankfully) there aren't many glaring holes. Jack Zduriencik might have to get creative - or might not if a guy like Victor Martinez decides that he wants to be teammates with Robby Cano and guide the Mariners back to the postseason.

If the season started tomorrow, this is what the Mariners lineup would look like:

  • C: Mike Zunino
  • 1B: Logan Morrison
  • 2B: Robinson Cano
  • SS: Brad Miller/Chris Taylor
  • 3B: Kyle Seager
  • LF: Dustin Ackley
  • CF: Austin Jackson
  • RF: Michael Saunders
  • DH: Ji-Man Choi? Jesus Montero?
  • Bench: Willie Bloomquist
  • Bench: Jesus Sucre
  • Bench: James Jones/Stefen Romero
And the pitching staff:
  1. Felix Hernandez
  2. Hisashi Iwakuma
  3. James Paxton
  4. Taijuan Walker
  5. Roenis Elias
  • Joe Beimel
  • Dominic Leone/Yoervis Medina
  • Carson Smith
  • Danny Farquhar
  • Tom Wilhelmsen
  • Charlie Furbush
  • Fernando Rodney

The Mariners have a hole at DH, but they did all of last season too (sad, but true). The Mariners return, rather literally, the entire 2014 team. There is already a logjam in the bullpen! Willie Bloomquist returns from the DL, for whatever that is worth, and a full season of Austin Jackson could be interesting too. Plus, a full season of the Chris Taylor/Brad Miller shortstop monster that emerged near the end of last season could be fun too. There are reasons to think that the 2015 Mariners are already in position to challenge for the playoffs.

So what do they do? What would you do?

On one hand, a marginal upgrade could go a long way because the Mariners project to be in that magical range where one or two wins make all the difference in the world. Two more wins in 2014 and they make the playoffs over the A's - or, even more tantalizing, just one more victory OVER the A's and the M's get in the playoffs. So, upgrading the bench, or getting a steady number 4/5 starter, could actually make a worthwhile difference. I've usually argued against money spent in these marginal areas, but not with where the Mariners are at now.

On the other hand, the roster is already in nice shape. A massive move is the only way to really upgrade the team in a significant way, and that kind of move might push the Mariners from fringe playoff contenders to fringe championship contenders. However, that would cost the M's the farm. Would you mortgage the future like that? Especially if the future is guys like Paxton, Walker, and Miller - contributors already in the majors? King Felix and Cano aren't getting any younger...

Jack Zduriencik generally works methodically, which is the kind way of saying he takes long enough on deals for other teams to complain through the media about the Mariners. Maybe that will play to the Mariners favor and someone falls in their laps. Maybe it doesn't, and they miss out on some major moves. Who knows?

All I know is that the Mariners don't have to worry about signing any of their own free agents this winter, and they already have a roster that should keep them in the playoff hunt. That could mean they lay dormant this offseason or have time to get really creative. It will be hard to dial out a disappointing offseason scenario, but there's plenty of room for how exciting it could be.

2014 BBA Awards

As a member of the BBA I have the pleasure of voting for the BBA's postseason awards. Furthermore, as chapter president this year, I had the pleasure of collating the collective voice of Mariners BBA blogs. Here is the Seattle chapter's ballot for BBA postseason awards:

Connie Mack Award (Best Manager)

  1. Buck Schowalter, Orioles
  2. Lloyd McClendon, Mariners
  3. Mike Scioscia, Angels
Willie Mays Award (Rookie of the Year)
  1. Jose Abreu, White Sox
  2. Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees
  3. Dellin Betances, Yankees
Goose Gossage Award (Best reliever)
  1. Dellin Betances, Yankees
  2. Wade Davis, Royals
  3. Sean Doolittle, Athletics
Walter Johnson Award (Best pitcher)
  1. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
  2. Cory Kluber, Indians
  3. Chris Sale, White Sox
  4. Jon Lester, Athletics
  5. David Price, Tigers
Stan Musial Award (MVP)
  1. Mike Trout, Angels
  2. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
  3. Cory Kluber, Indians
  4. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
  5. Jose Abreu, White Sox
  6. Jose Altuve, Astros
  7. Robinson Cano, Mariners
  8. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
  9. Michael Brantley, Indians
  10. Adrian Beltre, Rangers
Have fun agreeing or, more likely, disagreeing!

Game 162 Matters

I have five minutes to write a post. Maybe ten. Not much time, but I've got to write something.

So many things I wish I had the time to talk about with the M's game last night. I've got a church service to get to though, doubly important because my grandfather is getting recognized at this one. I still have my priorities outside of baseball, and I won't apologize for those.

I'm dressed nicely for church - a collared shirt, slacks, dress socks and dress shoes. My Night Court shirt is on underneath though.

Baseball, I think, plays out like garage sales most of the time. You go, rummage around, generally enjoy the hunt, but the vast majority of items are neither memorable nor disgusting. They're just there. But, every now and then, you find that one thing that you know you can't find anywhere else, the diamond in the rough, the relics that convince you the next garage sale is worth rummaging through too. Those matinee games where King Felix takes the mound and fires a perfect game - I know those are possible any given day, but highly unlikely. Still, I keep rummaging. I'll always rummage. Those unpredictable gems are too attractive to me.

However, the postseason is different, and make no mistake - the Mariners are playing in the postseason right now. I get that it's technically the regular season, and technically a one-game playoff with the A's would count as a regular season game. The regular season is the garage sale though. In the postseason there's no doubt how important or special the games are, and that makes each moment so much more precious.

So when the Mariners deliver a gem of a game that would stand out on any usual, mundane day, as they did last night, but the stakes are so high - that's special. They've made for a potentially legendary Felix day today.

Before I get too carried away, I get that the A's must lose today. They might night. Arguably, they shouldn't. That would mean they dropped 3 of 4 against the Rangers, the worst team in the American League. The Mariners also have to sweep the Angels, the best team in the American League. Game 163 is improbable.

However, the real victory is that game 163 is still a hypothetical. We've made it to game 162 and tomorrow might still exist. The Mariners and A's are the only teams in all of baseball that don't know what they'll be doing on Monday. The new wild card set-up has made these tighter races more likely, but they still strike different cities in different years.

It's our turn right now. I was thinking in the shower this morning about the last time game 162 meant so much. If we count game 144 in 1995 (they only played 144 that year thanks to the strike) that one was huge. I faintly remember the last game of 2000 mattering too.

That's it. That's the whole list. Today is a very special day. This is the kind of game that could live on through careers and stick in a lifetime of memory banks.

Happy Felix day.

Wild Card Picture

The American League wild card race remains unsettled with just 9 games (plus a suspended game in the 10th inning for Cleveland and Kansas City) to go. With so few games the race is essentially a sprint to the finish.

However, the sprint has a pattern and only so many outcomes possible at this point. I took some time this morning to visualize the remaining games in the AL Wild Card race by creating a mathematical graph. Graphs in math are comprised of nodes and paths, and for this exercise nodes are teams and paths are games between teams. I also weighted the nodes based on their odds to earn a wild card spot (according to FanGraphs), and weighted paths based on how many games remain between two teams, including today's games (even the one underway between Detroit and KC, plus the suspended game between KC and Cleveland).

There are six teams with odds remaining in the AL wild card race according to Fangraphs, ranging from the A's odds (92.7%) down to the Yankees odds (0.3%) with the Royals, Mariners, Tigers,* and Indians between, respectively. The Mariners, if you are interested, sit at 41.7% odds right now.

*I am using only wild card odds. The Tigers are at 95.7% odds to make the playoffs according to Fangraphs, but only 19.5% of those odds are wrapped up in the wild card. The rest of their odds represent their chance to win the AL Central. Similarly, the Royals' overall odds are split between the division and wild card, and for this graph only their wild card odds are considered.

Below is the resulting graph, which has two distinct cycles:

AL Central cycle

AL West/East cycle

One observation sticks out to me just looking at the two parts of this graph. The Central cycle has fewer teams and and fewer path than the East/West cycle. That means the East/West cycle is the more "open" of the two parts, which means there is more freedom for more teams in the East/West cycle to go on winning or losing streaks.

It is also interesting to consider where power is based on the graph. One way to measure a team's potential impact on the wild card races is to multiply the strength of the path by the weight of the nodes - essentially measuring how high the playoff implications are in each game remaining for each game in a team's remaining schedule. Here are the results of multiplying odds by nodes in the graph:
  1. Athletics (834.3)
  2. Royals (483.0)
  3. Angels (403.2)
  4. Mariners (375.3)
  5. Rangers (370.8)
  6. Tigers (264.3)
  7. White Sox (236.1)
  8. Indians (189.3)
  9. Phillies (185.4)
  10. Blue Jays (167.7)
  11. Astros (83.4)
  12. Twins (80.6)
  13. Rays (3.9)
  14. Yankees (2.7)
  15. Orioles (1.2)
  16. Red Sox (0.9)
The focus down the stretch will obviously be on the teams directly in the Wild Card race, but there is a strong case to be made that the Angels will actually decide who goes to the playoffs. They have a higher ranking than the Mariners thanks to their remaining series against the A's. Moreover, the Angels have the best record in baseball, so they have the talent to knock off wild card hopefuls along with the opportunity.

However, what kind of lineups will the Angels throw against teams the final week and a half of the season? How much will they rest their regulars since they have already clinched the AL West? Do they care enough about the A's or Mariners to try to steer one of them into the playoffs over the other? My guess is that the Angels will play hard through the A's series, but if they have the best record in the AL wrapped up by the time they face the M's (a real possibility), they will rest their starters liberally. That could bode well for the Mariners.

The graph also suggests that the Rangers and White Sox are best poised to play the part of playoff spoiler. Given the Rangers injury woes and the sudden departure of Ron Washington, plus the fact that Chicago has Chris Sale and Jose Abreu, I like Chicago's chances to spoil either the Royals or Tigers - though their better odds are balanced out by the smaller impact their potential victories would have on the wild card race.

Lastly, the games in the graph can be analyzed as a whole, particularly with so few games left. In such a short stretch basically every team would "likely" go .500. For instance, the Blue Jays have 6 total games in this graph and a 3-3 record in those games is easily the closest approximation to their actual winning percentage when compared to other two most likely outcomes (2-4 and 4-2). Therefore, by simply splitting games in this manner, pressure point games can be identified.

The Central, theoretically in this exercise, works out pretty nicely. The Angels clearly have a pressure point game though. They have 6 games total between the A's and Mariners, which would mean an expected 3 wins in this exercise. Whether they take 2 from Seattle and 1 from Oakland, or vice-versa, would make a huge difference in the Wild Card standings.

If everyone in the Wild Card hunt plays .500 ball the rest of the way, with the Angels taking 2 out of 3 from the A's and dropping 2 out of 3 to the M's at the end of the year, here are the final wild card standings:
  • (Tigers win AL Central with 90-72 record)
  • Athletics: 88-74
  • Mariners: 88-74
  • Royals: 88-74
Begrudgingly, I'll be an Angels fan for the next week, but only until Friday.

Enjoy the Moment

King Felix (wikimedia commons)
I haven't posted in forever, which from a business plan standpoint is a horrific idea. The Mariners have been quite interesting since my last post.

Good thing this blog isn't a business. I also moved and got ready for the school year (as a public school teacher), so life happens. Those are some big, time-consuming happenings in my life, along with following every game for the Mariners, which I have been doing. Ironically, I've probably followed the Mariners more closely the last month and a half, while I haven't been writing, than for most of the time I have maintained the Musings.

Quite honestly, I have more than come to terms with this blog's radio silence. It's really the best statement I could make about the Mariners right now. Don't read about them. Don't analyze contracts, WAR, future returns, upcoming free agency, draft classes, who will go where in the winter leagues and how they will do. There will be time for all of that, but that time isn't now.

Just go out and experience the 2014 Mariners, specifically the 2014 Mariners of tonight, September 13.

Tonight's game, as far as I'm concerned, is at the heart and soul of what sports are all about. There are tangential parts that have spun into massive industries (marketing, fantasy sports, the business and politics) that are fascinating in their own right. However, tonight's game is guaranteed to be special. The only question is how special.

King Felix takes the mound against the A's tonight. The Mariners are making this a "black out" night, and the game promises to be a near sell-out, if not a total sell-out. If the Mariners win they take over first place in the wild card standings.*

*They might be tied in first place, depending on results of other games, but that doesn't really change the point or tenor of this moment.

Tonight will be amazing. This is an event that will draw 40,000 people together in unison, to cheer on a team that at least like and a player they absolutely love. Remember for years all the chatter about trading Felix? The analysis of the roster and contract flexibility? That's all part of the back story that makes tonight so special. Felix is still ours, and he has embraced the franchise and city, hoping to be the man that guides the Mariners back to the playoffs. Tonight's game wasn't guaranteed, but here it is, and we get to celebrate it together.

Sports has many ugly aspects, particularly in the modern age of massive media contracts and the scrutiny that comes with it. The NFL has reminded us several times over in the past week just how ugly modern sports can look when things go wrong. However, despite the distasteful and blatant cash grabs of modern professional sports, I still believe there must be something so compelling about sports for all the money and opportunities to be there in the first place.

Tonight's Mariners game is that compelling space. This game will be fun for bandwagon fans and amazing for those who dare stick it out through thick and thin. There have been those random moments - like when Felix starts a midweek matinee against Tampa Bay and never gets around to allowing a baserunner - where it's easy to dream of what could be if he ever gets to pitch on a bigger stage. That dream, the dream I'm sure just about every Mariners fan has harbored in their mind and soul for the past decade, becomes a reality tonight.

Sports, at its best, engenders hope, perseverance, determination, celebration, and unity. All of these traits will come together tonight at Safeco Field.

A win, obviously, would be huge, and make tonight much better. However, the existence of this game - King Felix in September with seismic playoff implications on the line - is such a monumental victory. Games like this don't come around often. Playoff chases like these don't come around often either. Mariners fans have no issues appreciating this, given the current playoff draught.

I, for one, have largely tucked away FIP, xFIB, K/BB ratios, BABIP, and the rest of sabermetrics' alphabet soup for the offseason. The stats help a team get to tonight's game, but they can't quantify what it means to watch our face of the franchise, a true Mariners hero, go after a playoff spot that has eluded Seattle's grasp for 13 years. I can analyze the game all I want to in the future. Tonight is for experiencing the game at its finest.

Mariners Decide They Want To Field Actual MLB Outfield

Austin Jackson (wikimedia commons)
Lo and behold, the Mariners were active at the trade deadline! When the dust settled the Mariners grabbed a pair of right-handed outfielders for nobody on the current MLB roster. Clearly they are better, and addressed their most glaring spots of need. Time to get to know the newest Mariners, just how much better they've made the team, and how much was given up to get them:

Mariners acquire OF Chris Denorfia from the Padres for OF Abe Almonte and RHP Stephen Kohlscheen

Denorfia is what he is, a right-handed bat with a bit of gap power and good corner outfield defense. He becomes a free agent at the end of the year and is 34 years old. He is a rental and marginal upgrade for most teams, though not the Mariners. Keep in mind he will replace a slew of right-fielders that have combined for about -1.5 WAR this season. He could be as much as a 2-win upgrade because he supplants players posting negative totals.

The Mariners gave up a surprising amount at first glance, though not an alarming amount. It depends on how much you like Almonte. I still like him as a fourth outfielder, and frankly he was a better option than James Jones in center this whole time (though Jones likely has more long-term upside). Kohlscheen also looks like a solid bullpen piece, but he was buried in the Mariners embarrassment of bullpen riches.

Usually, a player like Denorfia comes at virtually no cost (like cash or a player to be named later), but this wasn't a normal market. Very few bats were available, and the ones that went tended to go for surprising prices. Asdrubal Cabrera, in a down year, netted Cleveland a surprisingly decent shortstop prospect in Zach Walters. Gerardo Parra, an all-glove, limited-bat type, went to the Brewers for a pair of prospects. It seems to me that the price the M's paid for Denorfia is in line with this year's market values. More importantly, the Mariners kept their group of core prospects together. At least until a few hours later...

Mariners acquire OF Austin Jackson from the Tigers for 2B Nick Franklin (who goes to the Rays in the David Price blockbuster)

It's hard not to like this deal for the Mariners. Jackson is a bona fide center fielder, though his defense has slipped the last few years according to advanced metrics. Still, defensively, he's an upgrade over James Jones (at least until Jones develops further; I like his raw tools) and is lightyears ahead of Jones with the bat. Jackson strikes out a bit, but with some power. He was a 5-win player a few seasons ago and is still just 27 years old. He should be entering his prime right about now. Jackson is also under team control through next season, so he is not a pure rental.

Nick Franklin is a more than fair price for Jackson. Franklin had no spot on the Mariners once Robinson Cano signed. He continues to crush AAA pitching and strike out too much in the majors. Either he will figure out MLB pitching or he won't. I think Franklin will, and if/when he does he could be a good everyday player for the Rays. However, his high strikeout rates make me wonder if Sean Rodriguez is a reasonable comp for him at this point - and if that's the comp, then the Mariners swung a great deal.

Honestly, I am pleasantly surprised that the Mariners could get Jackson for Franklin, straight up, and also pleasantly surprised that Zduriencik pulled the trigger on this deal. I have a hard time imagining this trade turning into a disaster, even if Franklin develops into a good player.

Overall, the Mariners are probably 2 or 3 wins better between now and the end of the season with Jackson and Denorfia, and only gave up one core prospect to improve - and of the core prospects, Nick Franklin was the most expendable thanks to Robinson Cano.

The Mariners may or may not make the playoffs with the roster they have, but they should hang around the race. Their rotation could get huge boosts from James Paxton and Taijuan Walker if either can get totally healthy and locked in between now and September. Denorfia and Jackson aren't the same kind of additions the A's and Tigers made grabbling Lester and David Price, respectively, but I'm not sure what else the Mariners could have done that would have made good sense. Two thumbs up from me. Time to see how the pennant race unfolds.

Those Moneyballin' A's

Billy Beane (wikimedia commons)
This might be a two-post day as I already planned to write something after the trade deadline passed (at 1pm Pacific Time). The deadline is pretty much over now though, thanks to Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics. He has already acquired Jon Lester, Jonny Gomes, and Sam Fuld this morning, giving up Yoenis Cespedes, Tommy Milone, and a draft pick in the process.

One reason I hate the Angels so much is because I can't hate other division rivals. Maybe I can conjure up some solid hatred for the Astros once they rise to prominence, but for now I admire their ability to utterly give up competing for a few years to focus on their farm system - which, by the way, is loaded and starting to graduate some good players. The Rangers can only be hated so much with a jigging, coke-snorting manager, and the lovable interplay between former M's favorite Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus. Plus they are just awful this year, thanks largely to an unfair slew of injuries.

Then there are the Athletics, the team I cannot force myself to hate. Moneyball, to my memory, is the first book I ever asked for as a Christmas present. I had the potential to take a closer, analytical look at baseball before that book but it is what took my fandom to another level. It's been hard for over a decade to both root against the A's as a Mariners fan, and root for them as a general baseball fan. I want Billy Beane to get a ring. He deserves it.

So I love today's trades by the A's. Billy Beane has proven with so many trades over the years that he keeps a certain cold-blooded distance from his players. They are assets to him, which serves him well in a small market where only so many players can be kept on long-term deals within the budget. Moreover, Beane can wheel and deal as a man entrenched in his job. Really, will he ever be fired? What in the world would he have to do to get fired in Oakland at this point? Beane can afford to make riskier deals if he chooses to with the confidence that a backfired deal or two won't cost him his job.

Cespedes is an otherworldly athlete that, believe it or not, is overrated as a ballplayer. His insane arm in the field make up for some defensive gaffes, and bruising power at the plate make up for lots of bad swings and misses. His contract ran through 2015 and then he would have hit free agency, where no doubt some team would have valued his raw tools more than the A's. This is the cold-blooded Billy Beane at his best: Cespedes was not the entrenched superstar, he of back-to-back home run derby titles and a starting bid in the All Star Game - he was an above-average left fielder with only a year and a half left in Oakland. So, Beane traded him for Jon Lester, a rental for sure, but a bona fide star.

Furthermore, Beane even went out and immediately got the Cespedes replacements, Jonny Gomes and Sam Fuld. Neither superstars, but with their powers combined, a surprising Cespedes facsimile. Fuld brings superior defense and plate discipline, Gomes some thunder, especially against lefties.

This is Oakland's best chance to win the World Series. They are already the best team in baseball, and a surprising number of big market teams (like the Red Sox, who they just got Lester from) are out of contention. Oakland knows as well as anyone, from the Mulder-Hudson-Zito days, that the playoffs can be an unfair crapshoot. However, the whole point of baseball is to step up to the table and play with whatever pair of loaded die you can get your hands on. Billy Beane is breathing in to his hands right now, and will cast his set in October. This is why I love the A's trades this morning, and why I will be frustrated if/when the Mariners stand pat at the deadline once again in the name of preserving the future.*

*Hopefully, this last sentence reverse jinxes the Mariners into a deal.

Deal or No Deal

Jack Zduriencik (wikimedia commons)
I despise writing theoretical trade posts. Any old blogger can cook up some theoretical trade and analyze it, justifying why both teams should go for it. The ideas and posts are so formulaic. I dare you to find some random internet writer/commenter's trade proposal that doesn't follow one of these three patterns:

Pattern 1: The now-for-future swap. The (insert fan's favorite team) should trade (top prospect) and (best prospect at superstar's current position) for (superstar). (Superstar) would be the impact (arm or bat, depending on position) that the (fan's favorite team) need, and (other team) would be loaded a few years down the road when they are ready to contend.

Example: The Mariners should trade Taijuan Walker and Alex Jackson for Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton would be the impact bat that the Mariners need, and the Marlins would be loaded for a few years down the road for when they are ready to contend.

Pattern 2: The delusional trade pillage. This comes in two variants, depending on where the fan's team is in the standings. If they are contending, it looks like, "(fan's favorite team) gets (superstar) for (young bench player that's a marginal prospect at best). Once a team with a superstar is out of contention they should grab any young player with a pulse."

Example: The Mariners get Giancarlo Stanton for Stefen Romero. Stanton is about to get paid but Romero is cheap, young, and has right-handed power!

If the fan's team is not contending, then this kind of trade looks like, "(fan's favorite team) trades (marginal starter that had a hot April, May, or June) for (other team's top prospect). (Other team) needs impact (bat/arm) and need to JUST WIN, BABY."

Example: The Rangers trade J.P. Arencibia to the Mariners for Taijuan Walker. The Mariners need an impact bat and Arencibia drove in a run last night. They can't let Walker's potential get in the way of WINNING NOW.

Pattern 3: Speculating on a rumor from a reporter. This is the most common of all.

Example: Reports are that the Mariners might be looking at Chris Denorfia of the Padres. 90% of internet commenters have next to no idea who Denorfia is. So, with the report in mind, they then take Denorfia and fit him in Pattern 2, since he isn't the superstar that could fit in Pattern 1.

Example: The Mariners should give up Stefen Romero to get Chris Denorfia.*

*Actually, I could see the Padres taking Romero for Denorfia. Sometimes random, pattern-fitting trade proposals make sense.

So now that I've written every trade proposal you could ever run into this time of year, let me get to the second point in this post. Jack Zduriencik, apparently, is hard to make a deal with, according to anonymous sources that respected journalists Ken Rosenthal and JP Morosi talk to. The money quote, from their joint article:
"They think, ‘Who can we give up that will never be any good?’ They don’t want to give up anyone who will haunt them. That’s just flat-out fear.”
True to the blue :-(

The evidence follows classic conspiracy-theory logic. There is no way to prove this statement wrong, particularly because Zduriencik has not pulled a noteworthy trade in a few years. We have almost no idea what kind of deals the Mariners considered or proposed. The only "proof" is the lack of proof to contradict the theory. Zduriencik is guilty until proven innocent.

Furthermore, to fully play devil's advocate, there is an art to trade deadline deals. The media can (and is) a pawn in the trade deadline game. Everyone wants to make a deal that favors their team. The anonymous sources in Rosenthal and Morosi's article have heavy incentives to criticize Zduriencik's trade style. If they can manufacture an added sense of urgency and pressure on Z, then he might be more willing to part with better talent.  It is in their best interest to push a bad reputation on him whether these anonymous sources actually believe Zduriencik is gun shy or not on deals. It could help their leverage, and since they are anonymous, comes with virtually no risk of harming their bargaining position and relationship with Zduriencik.

However, the anonymous sources got me thinking about Z and his trading style. I doubt he is as skittish as "anonymous sources" make him out to be, but there is evidence to suggest he values his own players rather highly.

Jack Zduriencik, way back when he started on the job, seemed to be the master of trades. He made a massive 3-team, 12-player swap that gave away J.J. Putz and brought back Franklin Gutierrez and Jason Vargas. The next offseason he made the megaswap for Cliff Lee. Zduriencik seemed to quickly assert himself as a crazy wheeler and dealer.

Here's the deal though: None of those trades involved guys that Zduriencik's regime drafted or developed. The same goes for the Doug Fister deadline deal, the most recent trade deadline swap Zduriencik pulled. Fister was drafted by Bill Bavasi. The only Zduriencik draft picks traded to date are Carter Capps (for LoMo) and Stephen Pryor (for Kendrys Morales). Bullpen guys that had been leapfrogged by other bullpen prospects, namely Dominic Leone. Additionally, Kendrys spent a year with the Mariners and Zduriencik tried to sign him back to the M's in a few different ways last offseason. The crazy wheeling and dealing ways of Zdurienick evaporated once "his guys" populated the Mariners system.

Take an even deeper look at the system, and Zduriencik's preference for his own guys becomes even more obvious. He originally drafted Tom Wilhelmsen in Milwaukee. Corey Hart, although a free agent signing, is also a draft pick of Zduriencik's from his Milwaukee days. Lucas Luetge, a mildly productive Rule 5 pick from a few years ago, stays around the 40-man roster and was plucked from Zduriencik's Milwaukee farmhands too.

None of these moves make Zduriencik an outlier per se. Teams draft players because they like them (duh) - moreover, particularly in the mid to late rounds, teams are highly likely to draft players that they value significantly more than other teams. The simple fact is that, by the 10th round or so, every player has been passed over by every team 9 to 10 times. So, teams generally select players they are less interested on passing on than every other team in baseball. The system is subtly designed for teams to prefer their own players to outsiders.

Additionally, it is worth remembering that Zduriencik got the Mariners job because of the phenomenal work he did building up the Brewers farm system. His baseball DNA is grounded in finding amateur talent and watching it flourish.

Conventional wisdom suggests that, if Zduriencik is on the hot seat, he would go in full "win now" mode and trade the farm. I'm not so certain that's how he would respond though. Managers and GMs generally prefer to go down with "their guys," and nobody is more Zduriencik than the prospects in his farm system.

With all that said, Zduriencik will trade his own guys. Remember that he had pulled off a trade with the Diamondbacks a few years ago that would have landed the M's Justin Upton for a package that included Taijuan Walker and Nick Franklin. Justin Upton rejected the trade, not the Mariners or the Diamondbacks. Zduriencik successfully brokered that deal. The Putz megadeal and Cliff Lee trades can't be forgotten either, even if they didn't involve Z's own draftees.

Zduriencik is just like every other general manager in baseball - he pulls a trade when the price is right in his estimation. He has in the past, and will continue to do so in the future, perhaps (hopefully) as soon as today, tomorrow, or Thursday before the trade deadline passes. For better or worse, he appears to prefer his own players more than most general managers.

I'd say that Mariners fans better get ready for a quiet deadline. Perhaps Zduriencik trades the farm for Giancarlo Stanton - I think Z would be willing, whether the Marlins would be too is another question - but he definitely would trade next-to-nothing for a guy like Chris Denorfia.

Start rooting for Taijuan Walker, D.J. Peterson, Brad Miller, Chris Taylor, and others to figure out life in the big leagues in a hurry before Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez exit their primes. That's true to the blue, at least underneath Jack Zduriencik's leadership.

Kendrys Returns

Kendrys Morales (wikimedia commons)
The Mariners made a trade today, acquiring Kendrys Morales from the Twins for Stephen Pryor. Morales, of course, played with the Mariners last year and then hung out in free agency forever since nobody wanted to sign him for big money and lose a draft pick, a scenario the Mariners forced when they extended Morales a qualifying offer.

I'm hoping there are some financial details yet to be reported in this trade, because without them, I don't like this deal.

Losing Stephen Pryor isn't a big deal at this point . The M's are flush with bullpen depth, and Pryor isn't the same since his major shoulder injury a couple years ago. He tops out around 94 or 95mph now and he used to flirt with triple digits. Pryor still has an MLB-caliber arm, and I hope he makes it back to the majors and sticks with someone for a while, but he is the exact type of player the M's should have been shopping around to take a chance on a hitter.

Where exactly will Kendrys Morales fit on this roster though? In 39 games he has been worth -0.9 WAR, and he is a limited defensive first basemen or DH at this point. He's essentially been a switch-hitting version of Corey Hart thus far, except worse.

What worries me most is the money involved though. Morales should make a little over $4 million the rest of the season. The Mariners may or may not have about $7-8 million of wiggle room, assuming they can use the money reserved for Corey Hart's performance bonuses. The Mariners just lost a bunch of their salary flexibility unless the Twins are picking up a bulk of Morales's salary (which could actually be happening but hasn't been reported; salary details often lag behind the news of players involved). I would be fine with that if Morales was an impact bat, but he isn't, or at least shouldn't be considered one.

The Mariners are gambling on Kendry's success last year and that his long free agency caused him to open up this season rusty. I could envision Kendry heating up and being a pleasant addition, but I'd like more than a low-upside gamble for half of the projected budget room the Mariners have. The Mariners could take a similar gamble to Morales by promoting Jesus Montero, except Montero would cost the Mariners absolutely nothing and might offer the M's more upside than Morales anyway.

I am struggling to see the value that Kendrys Morales adds which the Mariners didn't already have inside the organization. I suppose it is nice to see some move made as the offense sputter through July, but Kendrys is a highly unlikely savior.