Mariners Analysis

Monday, March 31, 2008

Most remarkable

Just while we sit here and wait for the opening pitch, the most amazing stat for me this winter is Jeff Weaver.

Still waiting for work.

A guy who made $8 million last year is out of work?!!

It's crazy. It's both great and mindblowing at the same time. As fans we wondered why the Mariners kept running him out there. We wondered what they saw.

But still, there is usually some team desperate for pitching who will take a flyer. I'm not sure if this is his agent, the market, or a combination of both. It's certainly possible a team has contacted Weaver only to be told he is looking for crazy money- like say half his salary from last year or something.

So while Reitsma sits at home stewing on his options, he should think of a guy like Weaver. Sitting by the phone, waiting for the ring to tell him he has a job. Baseball is a tough game, and when guys like Weaver aren't on an Opening day roster, it just goes to show the game is getting smarter (I hope Bavasi noticed...)


A lot of fans are really excited for this season, and part of the enthusiasm is rooting for a playoff caliber team. There is no question the Seahawks have a lot of fans come fall because many think they have a shot at going to the playoffs and even reaching the Super Bowl.

What I find troubling about the team is not the enthusiasm, but the source. Mainly, that a big part of the playoff fever is based on the fact you don't think the other three teams are very good.

That's a bad way to build a team, or excitement. Think of the marketing campaign... "We suck less than the other teams" or "If the Cardinals can do it, so can we!"

Personally, no thanks. I like rooting for a team for all kinds of reasons, but not because I think the division sucks and mediocrity will prevail.

So I'm excited for the season, but I want this team to be GOOD. I want Felix to become the star we know he can be. I want Ichiro to make a case for MVP. I want Putz to be the best closer in the game.

What I don't want is my team to have is a 1st basemen hitting .220 while playing terrible defense. Or my manager running a "platoon" in RF while Ibanez plays every day. Or for a DH and his vesting option to be a story.

So I'm torn. I see reasons for optimism, but am concerned about how the team will handle problems based on past experience. I have no way of knowing if Sexson, Vidro and Lopez will all rebound, but there is a chance one of them might struggle? And if they do, how will the team and its rookie manager handle it?

That's what's keeping me from believing this is a 90+ win team that can compete for the World Series. That should be the goal of the team, and right now, the way the team is built, I don't see it.

The Angels have a better farm system, owner and manager. I'm not being negative, those are just facts. Over the course of the season, they will likely win out. I also think the A's won't suck as bad as the "experts" think.

I'm stuck on 86 wins. I think there are scenarios that support higher and lower totals, but that's where I stand. I know many think it's crazy. How could an 88 win team add a pitcher like Bedard and not get better. But playoff teams fix problems during the offseason, and I feel Bavasi ignored the DH logjam and we have too many question marks on offense and defense to ignore.

Remember when this team won 93 games in 2003 and fell off the face of the earth the next season with largely the same group? In sports, staying the same rarely leads to improvement unless you have a really young team. (And the Mariners last year were one of the oldest.)

Not predicting doom and gloom, but this team needs to be improved before it can start talking about the playoffs.

Mid-80's feel about right. No powerhouse in the division, so the team will be in the race all season. Plenty of reasons to watch the game.

Let's see who's right.

Most interesting season ever?

I've been following the Mariners since the mid-80's, and we've had a few interesting offseasons. Griffey making the team, '96 after the Yankees series and massive fan resurgence in making the post season for the first time. The new ball park at Safeco. Maybe 2002 after the historic 116 win season.

But for me, this trumps them all in terms of interest and importance. This year we have more people then ever come out and publicly stake their claim on what this team will do, based on the changes made over the winter (or non changes in some cases).

There is little doubt Bavasi's job is on the line. And with that McLaren. Perhaps even Lincoln and company if the wheels fall off with enough force.

Yet if the team makes the playoffs, however ugly it may be, the FO will be with this team for many, many years.

This makes the season more important than ever. This isn't just a season. This is a regime defining moment. The people making the decisions for the next five years are likely to be decided by the teams play this year.

Beyond the team, we have plenty of bloggers who have weighed in and been pretty vocal about the changes made to the roster. Some are for it, some very against it. A lot of credibility will ride on this summer. If Bedard and Felix pitch like Cy Young candidates and Adam Jones is sent back to the minors before the All Star break, will USS Mariner take a credibility hit? If Vidro ends the season with a batting average in the top five, will Lookout Landing lose some fans?


Opinions might very well have to change. I have been on record on not supporting the Bedard trade as it was constructed. Will I have to change my thinking on baseball if this team plays like some believe it will? I think there has to be some soul searching on both sides.

And of course we have Mr. Baker of the Times. It's not often (ever?) you have a local journalist who supports the teams position over the winter and then comes out and says the team will make the playoffs. What will happen if the team tanks and Baker starts offering suggestions on the club come fall? Will anyone listen? Or will the posts become so negative they have to shut down the comments for a while until people cool off. Anything could happen.

Of course all this interest only adds to the season. We have even more reason to watch Bedard pitch. Watch Sexson take a big swing. Check the box scores looking for the Orioles. Did George blow a save? How's Raffy doing?

Today starts the most exciting season I have ever seen as a Mariner fan.

I can't wait.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Trades you later regret

Rob Neyer on ESPN has a list of the top 50 players for the next five years- link

I know, I know. Who reads ESPN, much less Neyer? But hey, it's a slow news day.

At #50 on the list is none other than:

Asdrubal Cabrera (22)

"Cabrera might be a stretch here, as much of his value is wasted at second base (by most accounts he's a fine shortstop). But at 22, he's already good enough with the bat to play second base, and a shift to shortstop would just be gravy."

Do you think the Mariners regret this trade? Do you think they would trade Jose Lopez straight up for Cabrera? Which one would you take?

If you go back to the time the Mariners gave him away, you'll see I was fine with what we were getting, but not what we gave up. At the time, there was plenty of people who thought while Cabrera was still a ways from the majors, he had the possibility of being really good. In other words, he was your typical AA high risk guy, but there was the possibility of a BIG upside. Those are not the guys you "throw in" for a mid-season pickup unless you are certain what you are giving up. I can assure you Bavasi did not know at the time what he was giving up.

I'm sure the M's front office was figuring with Lopez and Betancourt the teams was set for years to come, so the need for Cabrera was not obvious. This of course was foolish thinking. As Cabrera continued to develop, at worst you'd have a star AAA player who could have been used in much bigger trades. Or, he might be able to help should Yuni or Jose get injured or falter.

It was a small trade that got little news at the time, but plenty of us winced when it went down.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Wladimir Balentien cut

That's the good news. Earlier this spring McLaren hinted there might be surprises this year on the Opening Day roster, and some speculated Balentien could make the club. The team is doing the right thing in letting Balentien and Clement play every day and continue to work on defense. It does neither of them a bit of good to sit on McLaren's bench.

On the other hand, the news about Rhodes making the club, Cairo etc... is all bad.

I'll reserve judgment until the end of the week when final decisions are made, but this team appears again and again to limit themselves by taking veterans over talent and losing roster flexibility in the process.

How RRS doesn't make this team but Rhodes does will say everything about this team if it happens. Same with Norton, Cairo and Bloomie on the roster. For a team that is about "win now" these moves will produce the exact opposite. (BTW- I'm not saying RRS and Rhodes are interchangeable, just saying one has talent and a future right now while the other is in doubt...)

I don't think there is any question the Mariner offense is giving both Bavasi and McLaren a bit of heartburn at the moment. They see danger signs in Lopez, Sexson and Vidro, and have to wonder what Wilkerson will do coming off a sub-par year. Yet the replacements for any of these doomsday scenarios is unclear. Balentien in RF makes sense, but would they really replace him with Ibanez if he struggles? Color me skeptical. I think the current plan for the FO involves prayer and voodoo more than it involves data and deadlines.

The bullpen situation is fixable. They have plenty of arms to juggle until they find a combination that works. But going with a 12 man pitching staff is hurting the team on both offense and defense. Instead of using the bench regularly to rest everyday players as well as provide defensive upgrades in late innings, the team is going to give players like Rhodes wide latitude to work through early season problems. With no guarantee that move will payoff in the future.

Can you really tell me Rhodes has years of successful life left in him at this point? He's old and coming off a serious injury. Doesn't mean he won't make it, but means it's a risk. A risk the team doesn't need to be making if they put him on the 25 man roster this weekend. Are you winning now or running a fitness therapy club?

The good news is Wladimir Balentien is where he belongs. The bad news might be coming soon...

Friday, March 21, 2008

McLaren's frustation

Baker had some funny comments as well as general feedback from McLaren after last nights game- link

Basically McLaren didn't like the team loading the bases and not driving in a run with nobody out, as well as sloppy defense.

Well isn't that the pot calling the kettle black!

The 2008 Mariners have two issues we have been harping on for quite some time, and they aren't unique to this year: poor defense and a singles-happy team that can't walk.

This is not a news flash obviously. Only a few teams in all of baseball struggled more than the Mariners at converting balls in play into outs. And we all know this team is power deficient with Vidro as your DH and Sexson playing like a little leaguer.

It seems at times like McLaren forgets what type of team he inherited, and I suspect there are times it will frustrate him and cause him to say silly things. He's a lot like Lou in that regard.

Morse hitting into a double play with the bases loaded should have absolutely zero bearing on whether he makes the team. If McLaren wants Morse to play the outfield, he should have him play more there in spring training and make sure he emphasizes defense to the players when making his final selection. Small sample sizes like what he sees in last nights game really shouldn't be given much weight at all when making any decisions about the roster.

McLaren is a rookie manager who will make mistakes during the year. He will also say some pretty entertaining things along the way. We should probably not ready too much into his post-game comments, and judge him on his actions.

Sometimes what comes out of his mouth really doesn't make any sense. Entertaining? Yes. Displays good sense? Not so much.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Baker predicts playoffs

With all the talk around the Angels injuries and what it means as a Mariner fan, Geoff Baker of the Times throws down the gauntlet and declares the Mariners will make the postseason- link

I love it!

It's not easy to go out on a limb and make a bold prediction before the season starts when you have so much invested in a team. Baker has been applauding the teams moves this winter, but he still could easily take the "let's play the games and see what happens" approach, but instead he just flat out makes the Mariners the favorites.

All fans want to be optimistic to start the season, and clearly Baker and plenty of other believers are really thinking this is the year the team does something.

As for my own projections, I've been thinking ever since the Bedard trade the team will likely win somewhere between 86-89 wins, with a deviation of about 3 wins. If the team has injuries and the offense and defense are as bad as I fear, a .500 record is hardly out of the realm of possibility. On the other hand, if the every day players all have solid years and the starting rotation and bullpen are as strong as we hope, I don't think 92 wins is unrealistic either. It rarely wins the AL West, but it sure beats every team we've seen out there for the past 3 seasons.

What may surprise people is Texas and Oakland. Many people are expecting these two teams to really stink it up. While that is always a possibility, and it will certainly help the Mariners rack up wins if they do, both teams are not afraid to run young kids out there. And when you dip into your farm system, you often get pleasant surprises. While I don't believe either will win the division, I believe both will give the team all they can handle during the season. I don't care who Beane has traded away- the Mariners simply have a tough time winning in Oakland, as any long time fan can attest!

I really think all four teams in the AL West are fatally flawed, some just more than others. The Mariners have the best starting rotation in the division at least on Opening day, and for some that Holy Grail alone is enough to make them the division favorites.

The reality is good teams hit the ball, and playing good defense is never a bad thing either, and the Mariners have some huge question marks.

Top 5 things to make me nervous if my money is on the Mariners-
5) Jose Lopez- his confidence seems shot, and his ceiling has never seemed lower. With no obvious talent to plug in thanks to the Cleveland trade, 2nd base will likely be a problem all year.
4) John McLaren- his first real season as a manager. He has suspect role players on the bench, and has shown little reason to believe he will use them effectively. His use of the bullpen has to be a concern for any fan as well.
3) Jose Vidro- the more they play him, the more likely he's here next season. Morse would provide a younger, cheaper option, and he prevents Ibanez and Sexson from DH'ing. With his lack of power, he has to hit over .300 to be effective.
2) The bullpen- best closer in baseball, but a bunch of question marks until you get to see him. If Arthur Rhodes makes this team on Opening Day, the bullpen has to be a serious concern. I will guarantee right now McLaren and his use of Rhodes will cost this team a game within the first 30 days if he's on the team.
1) Sexson- He's playing during a contract year, and has set the bar suitably low (30 HR's, close to 100 RBI's) he seemingly has no where to go but up. However, his strikeout numbers are horrendous, he will often come and fail when men are in scoring position and the fans will start booing hastily as his shaky confidence is shattered if he struggles in May. How many teams make the postseason when their local first basemen is getting booed at home every day? A fast start is crucial for our only power source on the team.

I guarantee the team will win some games, and lose some. I'm pretty sure they will win more than they lose, but it wouldn't shock me if they didn't. My most optimistic scenario only seems them winning the West with help from others, as most years 90-92 wins doesn't cut it.

I expect Felix will have some amazing starts this year, and the sun will shine at Safeco starting in July.

Most exciting start to the season since 2002, and expectations for the team are high.

Great time to be a Mariner fan.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Suddenly favorites?

With the recent injuries to the Angels pitching staff, some are suddenly arguing the Mariners are the team to beat. Larry Stone offers his take today- link

As a Mariner fan, of course I'm excited at the possibility of winning the division. While I hate to see rival teams have injuries to key players, it is part of the game. When Edgar Martinez pulled a hamstring during a meaningless game in the spring and was basically never the same hitter all year, it was almost a lost season as a fan. Every game was a woulda, coulda, shoulda. So we all know it evens out over time.

But does it really make us the favorites?

Many fans point to Colorado last year and ask if anyone saw them making the World Series. But that's a specious argument at best. The Rockies play in the National League, the same league that sent the 83 win Cardinals to the WS. Just try and name one dominant team the last few years in the NL. The Mets were the only team that really looked talented on paper. The rest of the league was a complete mess. SOMEONE had to come out of the group, and we would have been no more surprised if the Giants, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Phillies etc... had made it. When a league is stuck in mediocrity, don't make too much out of the "champions" it produces. The Mariners and Rockies situations are completely different for many, many reasons.

So it's true someone has to win the AL West, and the Mariners are lucky to only have three other teams to beat to make the post season.

But that doesn't make this team good. The Mariners still have Richie Sexson at first. Still have a DH who hit 6 home runs last year. Still have a bench that will include Cairo and Bloomie. Still have a bullpen in disarray (sorry, but when Arthur Rhodes is competing for a spot after coming off a serious injury, you have problems). And have a rookie manager learning on the job.

Now if by midseason these issues have been mitigated or resolved, and the team is actually playing really well, then playoff talk is justified.

But injuries to your rival doesn't make your team "better."

And the Mariners still have to go through the Tigers, Indians, Red Sox etc... to get to the World Series.

Let's see the team play a few real games before we make them the "favorites"- ok?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Not much news in Mariner land

I think most of us are simply waiting for the season to begin. Whether the team carries Bloomquist and Cairo, or what becomes of Morse... those are minor questions in the big picture. It's hard to see them being the difference between making the playoffs or not.

And any serious fan knows spring training doesn't mean much. We know how awful George pitched last spring and then he became one of the best set-up men in baseball when the games counted. Some guys are working on things, getting their timing established etc... and the actual numbers are not that important.

This is a key point, and it's one the team often struggles with. For example, if Jeremy Reed had a great spring and outhit Ichiro, you wouldn't pencil in Reed on opening day because the sample size is too small. The track record of Ichiro is too vast, and you don't make decisions based on a few meaningless games.

In the same way, you can't judge an Adam Jones on 60 meaningless at-bats sprinkled during a call up. Just like you can't see a hitter have a 5-10 hitting sample against a pitcher and then start making serious lineup decisions.

Fans struggle with sample size, and so does the FO at times. If these games really mattered, Bedard and his 8.00 ERA would not be your opening day starter. Felix would. But we've already covered the politics of that decision.

The biggest concern with this team?

The offense.

Second biggest concern?


The team has shown little/no interest in fixing either one this spring, so we are left with waiting for opening day.

It can't come soon enough.