Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Pumpkin, Pumpkin.

So, if saying "Rabbit Rabbit!" on the first day of the month is supposed to bring you good luck, does saying "Pumpkin Pumpkin" on Halloween have the same effect? Well, I've got my porch light off, the kid trick-or-treated, and hot-buttered Harvey's and Spiced Rum poured in cups for both the wife and me. I keep queuing posts, and deleting them since I can't seem to finish them, but I'm going to commit to finishing this one tonight, so I can get back to my regularly-scheduled offseason photo-blogging...

Now that players are formally filing for free agency, and players' options are being declined, we're starting to get a better picture of who's out there for the offering (of a very expensive contract...). The phrase "Freely-available talent" takes on a whole new meaning. Over at LookoutLanding, the diaries are flooded with the fruits of the readers' rosterbations. (I like Deanna's the best -- and marc w does definitely deserve a promotion 'round here!) I'm not sure I'm going to put the effort into coming up with a "Splash" list like I did during the 2004 offseason. But I will use Blogger's storage space to come up with my offseason plan. Of course, since there's technically three other authors here, I'm sure we could whittle down one master plan for recommending to the M's. Not that the M's would listen, of course, but hey. This is what baseball geeks do both during and between seasons...

I'm going to approach this using MLB4U's free agent list, which seems to be pretty OK. There are still some folks whose options haven't been decided upon yet, so I'm really going to have to tweak this, if some of those guys become available. And, while I would like to fantasize about the M's shelling out $150 million + on the roster, and all of those players indeed lusting after the M's money, I do realize that neither of those things are reality, so I'm going to try and guess, like always, within reason a) who might be interested in joining the M's and b) who the M's might be interested in spending money/players on.

First, let's look at what we have for sure.

1) CF/RF -- Ichiro. He's staying. He's not going to be traded. 90% sure he's in CF, but he may get some time in RF.
2) SS -- Yuniesky Betancourt.
3) 2B -- Jose Lopez. He may still be growing, but there's enough potential there to give him the starting job. Possible trade chip, in the right, blow-the-M's-away offer. But probably worth less to other teams than to the M's.
4) DH/LF -- Raul Ibanez. The M's front office's favorite son. No way he's traded. Good fit for Seattle, so I'm not anxious to get rid of him. I'd keep him as DH myself, and limit his time in LF, but he's a starter on my team.
5) C -- Kenji Johjima. He's the starting catcher. He's a good one. Happy he's here, specially if it helps bring Dice-K in...
6) 3B -- Adrian Beltre. Finally starting to show that he can handle the AL. I'd seriously be surprised if he was able to pull another 2004 out of the hat, but even if he doesn't, he's still one of the top 3B-men in the league.
7) SP -- Jarrod Washburn. No way anyone takes his contract off our hands. Not sure the M's are that excited about getting rid of him either, really. I don't like the contract, and as much as guys much smarter than I am don't really like him, I still am OK with Washburn as a Mariner.
8) SP -- Felix Hernandez. Still has LOTS of room to grow up, but he's not quite on my "Freddy Garcia SITH List" quite yet.
9) CL -- JJ Putz. Wow. Did he come into his own, or what?
10) UTIL -- Willie Bloomquist. He just won't go away, so we might as well deal with him.
11) OF/DH -- Chris Snelling. How much he sees action will depend on a) his health and b) Hargrove's favor. Bavasi won't trade him, and he's out of options so he's staying in Seattle.
12) RP -- Mark Lowe. No telling how he'll recover from his surgery, but he likely will be back. If he is, he will be in Seattle. Update 11/1/06 -- apparently, the "Pumpkin Pumpkin" thing didn't quite work. Looks like Lowe's surgery wasn't all that successful, and his career may be in jeopardy. Darnit.

All of the above players are staying put, and they should stay put. If any of them are traded, it's going to be a blockbuster move, and I really don't expect that to happen. The following players could either possibly be traded or I'd like to see what we could get for them .

13) 1B -- Richie Sexson. Even more possible that they'd trade Sexson than Lopez, but he's staying put in my team. I might explore the trade market, but for now, I'm keeping him. He may be entering his decline phase, but the M's would really miss his run production. He's a frustrating player at times, but I honestly don't believe there's anyone out there available to the M's that would replace what he'd give us in 2007. Looking towards 2008, though...

14) RP -- Rafael Soriano. Certainly the near-impaling decaptiator off of Vlad's bat adds some element of concern. He'll get some action in the winter leagues, I'm sure, to get back up on that proverbial horse. He's got a TON of trade value, and while I do like him, I'm not as attached to Soriano as I am some other guys.

15) RP -- Julio Mateo. Were it up to me, I'd count his ~$1 million contract as a sunk cost and see if we could give him to LALALA or Texas. Should be pretty clear by now that he's not one of my favorites. Won't have much value, and Hargrove's affinity towards him seems to mean he's staying around.

16) RP -- George Sherrill. Of course, being his biggest non-related-by-blood-or-marriage-or-M's-payroll-like-Corey-Brock-is fan, this may be odd for some of y'all to read. However, I'm more concerned about George's success and happiness in the majors than I am that he stay a Mariner. If the M's were able to sweeten the pot by adding him into a trade to a team that would treat George well (and use him properly) and improve the M's, then I'd be all for it. I believe he's shown enough to prove that he belongs in the majors, even if it is merely as a LOOGY (though I believe he could still close in the majors).

17) UTIL -- Mike Morse. Doesn't have much trade value, but might be a good throw-in piece to seal a deal.

Other players that are more-than-possibly gone.

18) 1B/DH -- Ben Broussard. Either a trade chip, or a non-tender. Not sure how much help he'll be in Seattle. Certainly is better than what he showed while in Seattle, but if they trade Sexson, I'm not sure he'd be a good alternative.

19) 1B/DH -- Eduardo Perez. I actually like Perez, and see the value he provides beyond his performance on the field. Of course, the M's are leading the league in underperforming clubhouse leaders that cost waaay too much, so it wouldn't surprise me to see the M's keep him around.

20) CI, DH -- Greg Dobbs. Hargrove loves the guy. As does someone in the front office, too. Not sure he'll be gone, but, really, he probably should be.

Definitely Gone:

SP -- Joel Pineiro. What a waste. Had a lot of promise, but just never seemed to put it together.

SP -- Gil Meche. I'd like to keep him around, but not at the price some GM will be willing to spend on him.

Not sure what'll happen with these guys, but could be potentially useful, if things don't quite work out on the market.

21) SP -- Cha Seung Baek. Of the guys in the M's org likely to stick in the rotation and be somewhat useful, Baek leads the charge. I'd plug him into a rotation spot and go after two high-quality starters myself.

22) SP/Long RP -- Jake Woods. Meh. I wouldn't count on him for anything, but the M's probably will.

Other folks in the minors that might be useful to the M's big-league roster at some point in 2007:

OF -- Adam Jones. Needs some more playing time in Cheney. Will definitely see time in Seattle in 2007.

1B/DH -- Bryan LaHair. Rising a bit in prospect-dom. I agree with Dave Cameron who says he's pretty much a hit-it-to-one-spot hitter that likely would struggle in the majors. But, you never really know, do ya...

RP -- Emiliano Fruto. Not a favorite of mine, but still will be somewhat useful, I suppose.

RP/SP -- Ryan Feierabend. Close to the majors, indeed. Can't wait to watch him in Tacoma.

So, assuming the M's keep Baek and Woods around, that leaves three spots to fill for certain -- one backup catcher and one or two starting pitchers. Remove Mateo, Dobbs, Morse, Perez and/or Broussard, and the M's have a little more flexibility.

More rosterbation later...

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Congratulations, St. Louis

So the St. Louis Cardinals, the team that almost missed the playoffs after stumbling to a humiliating finish, the team that got huge performances from Jeff freakin' Weaver and Scott Spiezio in the playoffs, have won the 2006 World Series.

Honestly, it's a pretty cool story. Most neutral baseball fans have been hoping Albert Pujols would get a title, if only for his monstrous home run off of Brad Lidge in the 2005 playoffs. It's only due to the capriciousness of the MLB rulebook that the Cardinals didn't get to just win the NLCS after that homer - a moment of high drama, and the hardest hit ball I've ever seen, in any game, in any sport.

Clearly, Pujols is an other-worldly talent, and this postseason offered the closest we'll ever see to a true test of the entire theory of VORP. What does that mean? It means that the Cardinals line-up is dangerously close to a collection of AAAA or replacement-level satellites, all orbiting a single offensive star. Saber-researchers have been wondering for years what would happen if you surrounded a Ted Williams, a David Ortiz, a Manny Ramirez, an Albert Pujols, with 8 scrubs. The MLV stat is clearly aiming at quantifying this hypothetical sitatuation. Ladies and gentleman, we just witnessed the result.

I don't mean to minimize the Cards achievement here; they clearly deserved the win, thanks in large part to the utter inability of the Tigers to catch and then throw a baseball. But we've all been raising our eyebrows at the line-ups involved here: Yadier Molina slugging the Cards into the series? David 'Look Again Player of the Year' Eckstein as the 'hitting' star of game 4? Jeff Suppan as staff ace? So Taguchi, corner outfielder? Really?

Yes yes, they had Scott Rolen, MLB All-star, and Jim 'Hollywood' Edmonds, but did anyone but their respective mothers expect much out of those two this World Series? Scott Rolen has been busy defining the concept of replacement level at 3B so far, with only a solo shot and a series of ugly errors to his credit (before his big RBI hit tonight), and Jim Edmonds was a wreck down the stretch after suffering the aftereffects of a concussion and a shoulder injury.

It's worth pointing out that the heavily-favored Tigers started ex-Rainier Ramon Santiago at SS in Game 1, and kept Neifi Perez around, just to add insult to injury in the event of a Detroit win. Still, the Tigers hitters simply went cold, their pitchers got the yips in the field, and St. Louis walked away with one of the easier Series wins you'll see.

So what does it all mean? The biggest casualty here isn't Jim Leyland, who honestly couldn't have done much differently (except for pitching to Pujols in Game 1)... it's the entire concept of 'building a team for October.' This idea, popular around baseball following the Diamondbacks 2001 triumph, was on life-support following the out-of-nowhere wins of the Angels, Marlins, Red Sox and White Sox, which produced a string of 'explanatory' articles describing how each winning team constituted a blueprint for success (until the next year, when a fundamentally, utterly, totally different type of team won and defined a new blueprint). Not only did this sad procession highlight just how different the recent champs have been, but it also cast the spotlight on sportswriters' quixotic quest to divine a pattern from what was patently random. A pair of aces in the rotation! No no, a swing first, ask questions later approach at the plate (combined with hit and run/stealing/productive outs)! No, a big leader at catcher, one big ace, and a random venezuelan kid who has virtually no MLB experience! No no, a bunch of sluggers who keep the clubhouse loose! Forget that, what you *really* need is 4 above-average starters, a lock-down bullpen, and the world's your oyster - trade your sluggers for stolen-base threats. Or maybe what you need is a collection of also-rans, waiver-wire acquisitions, fading stars held together by hope and Re-animator-level medicine, and clutch hitting.

The big loser here is the idea that great players win the big games. Clearly, scrubs and patently sub-MLB level hitters can win a game or two as well - just not as often as the good players. If you find yourself in a seven-game series, as opposed to a 162-game season, it's entirely possible (though not all that likely) that Willie Bloomquist could be the slugging star, and that Joel Pineiro could put up a sparkling ERA (yes, it helps to play a team who finished 12th in the AL, one spot ahead of Seattle, in OBP). It makes you wonder which unlikely players could have been WS heroes, but for the lack of line-up chaos that would necessitate ABs for them... is it possible that the M's could've slipped past the Yankees in 2001 if only we'd gotten Luis Ugueto some at bats? Did we just need to light the Lampkin a few more times? Is that any more ridiculous than David Eckstein winning the Series MVP, or Yadier Molina slugging the Cards to the series?

Bill Simmons quoted approvingly from a yankee fan/reader who said "There is actually TOO MUCH talent [on the '06 yanks]. Are you honestly going to bunt with runners on first and second and no one out with the 25-million-dollar man up? Of course not. But if former eighth-place-hitter Scott Brosius is up, it's a no-brainer. So it's not just their lack of chemistry but the fact that playoff teams thrive off role players." I'm terrified that this post-facto 'explanation' of a random event will gain traction amongst baseball fans, or, worse, the M's front office. Yes, Yadier Molina came through with some big hits. Yes, he succeeded where Pudge Rodriguez/Jorge Posada failed. Does it follow that what playoff teams really need to do is trade MLB hitters for guys who hit .216/.274/.321 because hey, you never know, and at least they'll put down a bunt upon request? Um, let me wait to gauge the league-wide interest in Rene Rivera before I answer that...

Seriously, we need to bury the entire concept of a 'blueprint' for success in the postseason. There are no rules, dude. It's total anarchy. That's both scary and and liberating. The M's could get a hell of a lot better next year and be in the same position as the Mets and A's this year, or they could field the exact same team, and win it all. This isn't science; it's a game of chance. Support your team, and let the chips fall where they may.

Edited by PositivePaul to bump this ahead of his much lamer post...

Aaah. It's over...

Congrats to my favorite NL team -- the St. Louis Cardinals -- 2006 World Series Champs!

Now, if only the M's had grabbed Weaver like I told them to. Okay, maybe not...

Since the Series is over, the offseason officially begins! Crank up the hot stove, Marge, there's no offseason in baseball!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Heee's Baaaaack!

No, it's really not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. But one thing that I'm actually a bit excited about is the return of John McLaren as the M's bench coach. I've always been a fan of McLaren, and have always felt he'd make a good manager. If the statheads haven't quite figured out how to evaluate managers, then they're even further away from being able to rate bench coaches. So, there's still quite a bit of room for subjective evaluation, and my subjective evaluation of McLaren is that he's got a great baseball mind (so I've heard) and that he was another really good balance against Mt. St. Piniella. He knows this organization, and has been one of the good ones from everything I know about bench coaches, and McLaren in particular.

Welcome back, John! Here's to hopin' Hargrove gets kicked out of a lot of games this year so you can get some managerial experience.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Piniella Takes the Helm in Chicago

Lou Piniella has apparently agreed to a 3-year deal to manage the Chicago Cubs.
This isn't necessarily good news to a number of M's blog commenters who pine for the intensity, the passion, and the insightful telecast commentary that makes Sweet Lou one of a kind.

It'll be interesting to see how he handles another group of young pitching prospects; remember that he was never given top marks in this subject even when the M's were winning. How will Rich Hill, Angel Guzman (if he stays), Sean Gallagher, etc. fare under Lou's tutelage? How about the position players, from Felix Pie to Brian Dopirak?

So what do you think - Devil Rays, mark 2? Or will he finally get Chicago's vaunted system to produce at the Major League level (in part by not working pitchers as hellishly as the departing Dusty Baker)?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Enough of that

Okay, so we HAD our day without baseball. Now let's get back to it...
No, not the LCS games, which are fascinating in their M's-less way (Scott Spiezio - key contributor? Wha?) - I'm talking about the Arizona Fall League and the Hawaiian Winter League, both of which feature some M's prospects.
The Hawaiian league started up earlier, basically at the beginning of October. The ridiculously named Waikiki BeachBoys feature M's pitchers Dave Asher, Joe Woerman; 1b Reed Eastley, C Jeff Clement and OF Sebastian Boucher.
The league's most notable aspect is that it includes a number of NPB prospects as well - the first iteration of this league is where most people in the US first encountered Ichiro. Kanehisa Arime is out of the gate pretty fast, but I think we're all going to have to rely on Deanna to separate the wheat from the chaff here. Also, it's *really* early yet, but two teams (incl. Waikiki) are hitting below .200; this may be the antithesis of the Arizona Fall League (which many complain makes any hitter look like a top prospect).
As you'd expect, the M's pitching 'spects are doing all right so far, with Joe Woerman striking out 6 in 5 1/3IP. No one's really separating themselves from the pack, but again, it's ridiculously early yet. Dave Asher (a lefty the M's drafted out of college in Florida) is starting, which is nice, as he was posting some ridiculous platoon splits in Wisconsin - it's nice that he's not being stuck in the LOOGY role yet, though that's still probably his best route to MLB.
The hitters... um, have I mentioned that Sebastian Boucher is a notorious slow starter? The speedy OF out of Bethune-Cookman is now at .067, or 1-15 with no XBH. Fellow Canuck Reed Eastley is actually hitting worse: .062. Perhaps it's the pressure of playing in an environment that's basically the opposite of Canada, or perhaps they're slow-cooking to lock in flavor, but hey, at least they're playing. Jeff Clement hasn't played in about a week now; not sure if anything going on, or if the team's trying to rotate the other catchers through.

AFL - Matt Tuiasosopo, Mike Wilson Craig James, Ryan Rowland-Smith, and Bobby Livingston are down in Peoria, playing for the Javelinas (aka Collared Peckaries, a type of native pig). The league started on Tuesday, and the Javelinas have two games in the books thus far. Tui got the start at 3B on the 10th, but went 0-4 (though he did have an RBI). Mike Wilson stroked a 9th inning double in a losing cause. Hyped Braves C prospect Jared Saltalamacchia went 1/4 but had *3* errors in the game, and allowed Nimitz-class 1B prospect Brad Eldred to steal 2nd on him (I don't care if it was on a double steal - I almost choked when I read the box score).
Today's game didn't feature Tui or Wilson, but Ryan Rowland-Smith came on to pitch 2 1/3 of 1R, 3K 1BB ball. RRS was charged with an earned run, but I'm not sure why; a runner took 3rd on an error, then scored on a Sac Fly followed by 2 ks, which, to me, is an unearned run.
Can't wait to see if Doc Livingston is able to recapture the form he had early in 2006, though it's worth mentioning that Clint Nageotte tore up the AFL (ridiculously low walk rate included; where the hell was *that* last year?).
Many observers feel that the environments are so distorting and the sample sizes so small that it's not really worth paying attention to unless you're there, talking to scouts or seeing the players live. While there's more than a grain of truth in that (esp. regarding sample size), hey, it's baseball. And while you can often get the wrong idea about a guy even when you're focusing on component ratios (and not ERA or something), you can get the wrong impression ('glad Nageotte's got that command problem sorted out!'). Still, this is a great test for a number of guys that the M's need to step up, especially Tui.

Monday, October 09, 2006

A Day Without Baseball

With all the sweepage that has gone on in the Division Series, for the first time since the All-Star Break, there's no ML baseball anywhere today. That's pretty weird, really. I may not be addicted to all things baseball as much as I could be (though I am, probably, much more than my wife would like me to be), but I usually try to catch what's going on in the MLB world. Now that MLB is down to the Final Four, it's a sure sign that baseball is indeed winding down.

Heh. There may not be any games played today, but there's always plenty to talk about. There is no offseason in baseball. Only a few weeks until the official start to the Hot Stove League.

Well, there's probably SOME sort of baseball event happening today. Check with Deanna to see what's going on in the world of NBP.

Heck, it's Autumn after all. Go out and enjoy a day without baseball.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Done. Over. Gone. Buh-Bye...

Number 162 is now in the books. The 2006 season has come and gone. Another losing record, another failure to reach the playoffs. Not completely surprising, of course, but still disappointing nonetheless.

Since the Seahawks are doing their impression of the Seahawks of old (and the first 3 quarters of their opponent last week), I've decided to wrap up the season with my final Diagnostics post. So, here's a look at the Diagnostics we set to start the season, and a look back on how the M's measured up.

Edit: I started this post on Sunday, and didn't realize it'd take most of a week to complete it, so there...

1: George Sherrill gets more than 50 IP.

Nope. Didn't happen. He missed it by 10 -- although he did appear in 72 games. There were still two huge positives, though, for George in 2006. 1) He started and finished the season in Seattle, was mostly healthy, and didn't see any time at all in Tacoma; and 2) He was the only M's bullpen regular that didn't give up a HR. Both of those cannot be overlooked, and are huge accomplishments. Congrats, GS52, on both of these feats.

It was a good season for GS52, and while I'm pretty sure he's glad it's over, he's definitely become a major leaguer, folks! It may not be the ideal role, but you have to start somewhere. Certainly a lot of us hoped he'd see some of those high-leverage innings that ended up going to Mateo, and while he's certainly capable of handling a greater role, establishing his value to the major league club is a huge hurdle to cross. There's an old saying -- it's a whole lot easier to get to the majors than to stay in the majors. I believe that George is definitely going to stick. Heck, Howard Lincoln even mentioned him by name in his letter to season ticket holders.

One thing George needs to work on is developing his out pitches versus righties. While certainly there have been some questionable ball 4 calls from the umpires, having a better out pitch would help cut down on the walks. He's all about deception -- and while he's probably even fooled several umpires, his off-speed stuff vs. righties wasn't as effective against righties as it's been in the past. He had more walks than K's versus righties. Definitely something to work on.

2: Where does Jose Lopez start the season?

Well, like George, he started and finished the season in Seattle. With his second-half performance, though, maybe we should have asked "How does Jose Lopez finish the season?" His batting average wasn't too bad, even in the second half. A late addition to the All Star Game, Jose showed signs of his youth by having his power disappear. He hit, what, one home run in the second half? Yep. As many as WBBD hit. But, really, in spite of the lack of power in the second half, Jose Lopez is more part of the solution than the problem.

3: Will Kenji Johjima and Rafael Chaves have any measurable impact on the pitching staff?

In the end, I would say yes and no. I really didn't see much difference between Bryan Price and Rafael Chaves -- Chaves didn't seem to do anything that I either loved or hated. Not sure if it's Kenji or Raffey, but one of the two (or both, or even Hargrove), though, seemed to take Felix in a different direction. Felix's fastball isn't his strongest pitch, although during the game, it seemed to be the pitch that they wanted Felix to use the most as his out pitch. There's still some noise about Kenji's pitch-calling ability, but it might be because he's receiving the signs from the dugout.

As far as this diagnostic goes, I'd have to say that there wasn't much impact, either positive or negative. Too hard to tell.

4: How far will the "Hinge" players who disappointed last season bounce back?
  • Ichiro: 224 hits; 45 SB; .322 BA. Didn't quite display the power I thought he might this year, but still had well over 200 hits. How can you not like the 95.7% success rate with the stolen bases. Yep, I'd say he bounced back.
  • Adrian Beltre: Absolutely surged in the second half of the season. .891 OPS after the break, and 18 of his 25 HRs. Just one shy of 40 doubles? I'd definitely take that any day of the week. Is Adrian finally figuring out the AL? If so, watch out! His best non-2004 season, really, although 2000 was slightly better.
  • Jeremy Reed: Lost his job thanks to an injury. Definitely didn't bounce back. Fortunately Ichiro is the CF moving forward -- unfortunate, of course, for Reed. I expect him to find success elsewhere. If at all. Bums me out a bit -- I like Jeremy.
  • Joel Pineiro: Done. Phwewh. Don't let the door hit you on the way out. Lost his rotation spot in August, and while Hargrove tried to salvage his M's career by riding him out of the bullpen, it didn't work. Yeah, that Mike Mussina comp early on wasn't exactly accurate, was it. He'll probably find work in the NL next season, but he's certainly done in Seattle.
  • Gil Meche: He certainly bounced back and actually improved a bit this year. He was inconsistent and had a much worse second half. Definitely didn't show too much of the potential that has followed him around his development.
5: Will PositivePaul actually miss having Ryan Franklin in the rotation?

Nope. Although -- with Pineiro's struggles in the rotation, I might've been less frustrated with Franklin pitching in his stead. But when Baek was called up -- I got my Ryan Franklin fix. Actually, aside from one outing, Baek really pitched well in his bidding for a spot in the 2007 rotation. We also got to see Jake Woods and Ryan Feirabend in the rotation. We caught one inning of Cruceta's struggles, only to be yanked faster than you can say "". But aside from Bad Meche and, well, all of Joel Pineiro, the pitching wasn't so horrible to watch that it made me miss cRyan Franklin. He simultaneously killed both the Phillies' and the Reds' chances for a post-season berth.

So. There you have it. A look at the 2006 season that was. Obviously there were some positives when examined via the above diagnostics. There were plenty of negatives, too.

I, for one, am glad it's over. I'm not, however, very excited about 2007. At least as long as Hargrove's at the helm...