Mariners Analysis

Monday, April 12, 2004

Through the first 6 games of the season, I notice a lot of M's fans are focusing on the defense. Given the M's were the last team in the majors to win a game, and by virtue of a 1-5 start are looking up at teams like the Rangers, Brewers, Reds and Tigers, clearly something is wrong.

But I think fans are making a mistake if they believe watching Cameron in a Mets uniform is the root of the problem. Let's look at what we know-

  • M's fans are spoiled after watching Griffey and Cameron play center the last decade
  • M's pitchers have had a Gold glove center fielder behind them for as long as baseball mattered in Seattle
  • The M's had the fewest errors of any team in history last year, and missed the playoffs
  • Even with a Gold glove in center, the M's were as likely to miss the playoffs as make it since '95
  • Randy Winn played center in the majors for 5 years, and is not playing out of position

Rather than focus on the missing defense, the real problem, IMHO, is the way the team was put together in the offseason.
First, look at Randy Winn as a ballplayer. He is, by most accounts, an average outfielder. He doesn't hit for power, average defender, decent speed and makes $5 million per year. As a total package, Winn is decent but doesn't really stand out in any particular area.
Second, look at Cameron. Best center fielder in the AL, good power, good road numbers, fan favorite; bad strikeouts, bad Safeco numbers.
By replacing Cameron with Winn, we all knew what we were getting- less defense, less power; higher Safeco average, additional $2 million.
The problem was who we replaced Winn with in left field- Ibanez. Winn and Ibanez are remarkably similar as ballplayers, and it is a stretch to call Ibanez a significant upgrade over Winn (unless like Bavasi you believe Ibanez will hit .380 in Safeco).

So defense is worse in '04, we knew that going in. But it has very little to do with the 1-5 start. Put Andruw Jones or Mike Cameron in center, and this team is still 1-5. What are bigger problems?
* Jamie Moyer's first two starts have been awful- pitches high in the strike zone, can't spot his change-up
* Joel's velocity is down, and has struggled throughout spring with this location
* Bullpen, a previous strenght, has been terrible (primarily due to injury)
* The AL in general is significantly better this year, while the M's at best maintained, and likely are worse than last year
* Started the season against Anaheim and Oakland, two playoff caliber teams

Realistically, the M's should be 3-3 or 2-4 at this point, and defense, while a concern, is far down the list of things for fans to get worked up over. Edgar's health, lack of power, and inability to develop position players or get help during the season, are just a few I'd place over Winn's ability to play center.

Defense, in general, is the least of my concerns with the M's.