Opportunity Wasted, Making me More Afraid. AKA 2006 Draft, Revisited...
Okay, I've got a major problem. The more I think about this, the more frustrated I get.
I'm actually writing this during the ballgame tonight, but I have been chewing on this all afternoon.
It should surprise no one that I'm no fan of Howard Lincoln. While I won't call him cheap, I will say that he doesn't have a good sense of baseball economics. According to many sources, the Mariners chose to follow Bud Selig's unwritten policy of slotting monies for draft picks and it was for that reason -- not because of a perceived talent gap -- that the Mariners left tonight's starting pitcher for Detroit on the draft board in favor of Brandon Morrow. That came from Howard Lincoln, and not from Bob Fontaine. Miller's signing bonus with Detroit was $3.5 million, and Brandon Morrow's was $2.5 million. Granted, four teams who drafted ahead of the Mariners also passed on Miller, likely because they didn't want to give him above-slot money either. It's entirely possible that Miller didn't prefer to sign with Seattle, and would've wanted more bonus money to sign with Seattle. Even if it took an extra, what $2 million -- or even crazier -- DOUBLE the signing bonus -- that's still, at max, an extra $5 million above what they gave Morrow.
That one decision, by Howard Lincoln (if the reason given for not drafting Miller is as stated above), cost a heck of a lot more than the extra $5 million above what they gave Morrow.
Right now, the M's are a playoff contending team. If you don't believe me, just ask Ichiro, who's on the verge of surrendering likely his last opportunity of really testing his market value on the open market as a player in his prime. The biggest need for the Mariners is pretty much commonly understood as a top-shelf, #2-3 pitcher to keep the M's from losing more games 12-3, 16-2, etc. From here on out, every win is very important, and they need to optimize this team and improve it any way they can to help their chances of winning the division, if not the Wild Card.
Right now, pitching for Detroit, is the pitcher that should have filled that need. Okay, it's the 6th inning right now as I type this, and in spite of the numerous pitches, and the botched play by Carlos Guillen leading to three Mariners runs, I still believe Miller's that pitcher.
I believe the M's opportunity to patch their rotation for 2007 and beyond was blundered like nothing else.
At the time of the 2006 draft, I saw the glaring holes in the M's rotation, and the lack of upcoming free agents who I really wanted. I wanted a pitcher who could've spent the rest of 2006 in pro ball in the minors, and maybe a few months of 2007 at most, and then jump into the bigs early in the 2007 season. In the off chance that the M's were to be playoff contenders in 2007, I knew that pitcher would need to be a reasonable factor in that equation. Lincecum was projected to be one of those types of pitchers, and the same goes for Miller, obviously. A hard-throwing lefty who's tough to hit (except, of course, unless for tonight your name is Jose Vidro)? Yes please. Imagine a 1-2 punch of Felix and Miller right now, even if Miller's still a little raw. They both pitched equally well tonight.
At the time of the draft, I wanted Tim Lincecum over Brandon Morrow. It was a common debate back then and certainly drafting Morrow over Lincecum was Fontaine's call. I'm less likely to bash Fontaine for taking Morrow over TL. I'd heard some people say that Morrow was most likely to end up as a relief pitcher, and may take awhile to develop as a starter. And that was even WAAAAY before the M's were even considering having him start 2007 in their bullpen. I'm not going to drag Fontaine and the Morrow vs. Lincecum debate into this discussion too much further, because I have other points to make. But that's because I didn't think Miller was going to be available to the M's at #5. Clearly Miller was rated as the consensus best pitcher available and was going to spend very little time in the minors. I believed Lincecum was the same way, and that Morrow, while perhaps having a bit more upside over Lincecum in the long run, needed a fair amount of time in the minors to develop as an MLB starter. There was also the fear that the M's were going to pigeonhole Morrow into the bullpen.
While Morrow also may have fewer health concerns (I guess -- I'm not really convinced myself), I would argue that TL, control issues inclusive, is a better pitcher more prepared for the majors today than Brandon Morrow is, even disregarding the point that Morrow's a RP and TL's a SP. Miller's arguably the best of all three right now, too. Both Lincecum and Miller are MLB-quality starting pitchers right now, and likely only will get better as the season develops. Morrow is barely passable right now as a MLB RP.
That 2006 draft decision, that wasted opportunity, is forcing the M's to have to really work the phones and find a starting pitcher on the trade market - all in a clear seller's market. There are lots of teams looking for starting pitching, and the price, in terms of prospects in trade, is going to be high. The Mariners actually have a decent stable of prospects to trade, but does anyone trust Bavasi as a buyer -- look back to what he got for Soriano. Um, yeah. Horacio Ramirez as a #3 starter? Maybe in the AZ Rookie League. I won't even mention how that trade was the second bad domino to fall -- trading Soriano for a bad SP, forcing you to pull a fastball-throwing SP prospect out of his development as a SP and even MORE insanely to rely on him as an 8th-inning high-leverage reliever. Whoops, I just did.
Now that Ichiro's behemoth contract extension is on the verge of being announced, there's a little less need to completely refuse to trade Adam Jones. While I'm still very reluctant, were I GM, I'm certainly not completely opposed as I might've been with Ichiro's status still uncertain. Even still, though, there are very, very few players that I would trade Adam Jones for straight up. Several of those are pitchers who, of course, aren't going anywhere, since their teams are just as in the race as the Mariners.
But I'm not GM, and Bill Bavasi is. And he judges talent MUCH differently than I do. I'd like to say that since he's the one on the M's payroll that his judgements deserve to be trusted more than mine do. But I wouldn't've even traded Rene Rivera (I believe I clearly dilvulged my thoughts on him earlier today) for either of Horacio Ramirez or Jose Vidro, let alone Emiliano Fruto/Chris Snelling and/or Rafael Soriano. Even knowing Snelling's career is possibly (sadly) done, and Soriano had some injury concerns at the time, too.
That's why I'm afraid.
Now, I do believe that Bavasi recognizes Adam Jones' stardom. I think he's still very, very hesitant to trade him. But again -- I'd be willing to bet significant money that the list of players I'd trade AJ for is quite different than Bavasi's.
The news of the day Tuesday seemed to point to Adam Jones being promoted for the game today. Then, yesterday, that news was dismissed and denied for whatever reason. Even if there was no specific, confirmed plan to bring Adam up for the game today in the first place, they're still keeping him down in Tacoma when he's clearly ready for the majors.
The million dollar question now is -- why?
When an upgrade in the outfield defensively clearly is needed, and AJ would clearly help that, why wouldn't you make that move? I suppose one reason may be that they don't want to rock the boat any more than they have to. When things are going well, why change a good thing? An ancient Christian saying is that there's no person too perfect not to need salvation, and likewise, there's no person bad enough that grace can't rescue. To apply that to baseball, it's hindsight, sure, but even in 2001 they could've improved the team and improved their chances to actually make it into the World Series. I argued that back then, and I argue that again this year. I'm fairly certain that the M's aren't wanting to revert to 2002/3 "Stand Pat" mode right now.
Another concern, I suppose, too, could be that the M's management knows how well how clearly awesome Detroit's starting pitchers are, and they wanted AJ to make a softer landing into the majors this season. That's a logical thought, even if it misses part of the point. Taking that a bit further, too, though, what if they're genuinely concerned about having AJ come to the majors and struggle mightily at the plate? After all, he did just that last season (even though he was a) younger and b) not given a clear role and used inconsistently). What if they're so nervous about it that they're keeping him in the minors, where he's clearly beating the crap out of the ball, just so his trade value isn't damaged?
To me, that's the epitome of stupid. Other MLB teams know his value right now, and I'm sure are willing to give legitimate talent to get him, even if he gets off to a slow start in his 2007 MLB debut. I'd be willing to bet that after Felix, Jones' name is probably the first name asked about.
But, I can see the Mariners being somewhat concerned by that. After all, they're the ones who caused a huge roster problem by trading for Jose Vidro. They seem to ignore the fact that Raul Ibanez, too, is a DH in the outfield -- that his years in the Mariners system as a catcher are catching up to him in LF. They also refuse to acknowledge that their current version of "lefty sock" (Ibanez) is hurting their chances to win by placing his .580 OPS (yes, OPS -- NOT SLG) bat vs. lefties third in the order against a lefty starting pitcher. Some of that's McLaren, possibly, but no one's telling him to change the lineup to adjust for that (as far as I know). Likewise, even with a 3-hit night, they also refuse to acknowledge that they have a huge problem at DH.
Certainly the game's not all about statistics, but you'd think that a smart organization would recognize how important it is to maximize the probility of winning as much as they could. Making the adjustments that are most likely to get the most out of what you have.
I'm not sure which starting pitcher they're targeting, if they're indeed on the phones shopping for one. Does anyone believe, though, that they're not? I've heard rumors of several, and I'm sure they were talking to Chicago about Buehrle, before Buehrle signed his extension. But I'm also sure that whatever starting pitcher they may be targeting will cost more than $5 million -- if not over the course of the rest of the season, then certainly likely in 2008 and beyond.
I'm really hoping he also doesn't cost Adam Jones. If it does, then I hope that pitcher is here for a long time and is much better than Andrew Miller. I don't believe such a trade is possible.
Again, Howard Lincoln is not cheap. But if indeed he specifically said no to allowing for an extra $3-5 million above draft slot money it might've taken to get the concensus best pitcher in the draft -- one who clearly was close to becoming a MLB pitcher, in a time when the Mariners clearly needed MLB-ready pitchers (and had few in their system) -- then he needs to also recognize what it very well might have cost the Mariners. I'm not totally convinced Morrow can or will be put back on track to develop as a starting pitcher. It's clear to me anyway that he's not even close to being there now.
This whole branch of problems started with Howard Lincoln, went through Fontaine (to a small extent for drafting Morrow over a more MLB-ready Tim Lincecum), and down through Bavasi (for trading away one of his best late-innings RP aces for a crappy SP, patching not that SP hole and creating a new one in the RP corps AND down on the farm). It's too bad, too. It's a decision that I believed at the time, and still believe today, that will haunt the Mariners for a long, long, long time.