Mariners Analysis

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The mysterious case of Shin-Soo Choo

Remember when the Mariners had a kid coming up from the farm system from Korea? He played the outfield and generated a little buzz in the minors. His numbers were never spectacular but scouts liked his game and he eventually made the majors when the big club was forced to play kids more than usual because they sucked.

The general consensus among fans of the team was 4th outfielder at best. This is what we had heard was his ceiling coming in and he certainly did little to discourage that thinking upon arrival. I still remember a few "curious" routes he took on fly balls, and remember thinking he doesn't hit that well and struggles playing defense. I wasn't all that impressed.

The first sign I should have re-evaluated my position was probably when we heard Cleveland was interested in him. When Cabrera was traded to Cleveland I feared we were giving up a really good infielder, and my fear was justified. With Choo I should have asked more questions.

New Rule: When Cleveland wants one of your prospects, watch out. They more often than not know what they are doing.

Last season saw Choo go on a tear after the all star break, and he is all of 26. Would I take Choo back? In a heartbeat. Did I misjudge his talent potential? Yes.

Rule #2. When your team is bad, make the hard decision to play your kids. Don't let one or two month sample sizes sway your opinion. (This goes both ways. Just because a kid comes up and hits 5 home runs his first week doesn't change a thing.)

So remember these rules when you hear fans crying for Clement to be traded. This team won't be all that good this year and it's the perfect time to see what kids can do.

This team can't afford to give up on talent too easily.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Morrow situation sucks

Remember last year when Morrow pitched against the Yankees at Safeco? And for a moment, Mariner fans could look ahead and dream about a rotation with Felix and Morrow and see light ahead.

Today that dream is officially shattered with the news Morrow is no longer a starting candidate.


Easy. Every hand in the decisions over the years to keep Morrow in the pen, looking at the short term gain ahead of the future of the club. This is squarely on Bavasi's shoulders, McLaren, Hargrove and the rest of the staff who continued to try to win now and worry about the future later.

Well today the future is now and the Mariners used the #5 pick on a reliever. To make things worse, Fontaine and company drafted Josh Fields with the #17 pick who is also limited to one inning stints.

That is how you create a bad franchise. Use your draft picks incorrectly and you'll be in the basement for a long, long time. (And for the record, the Fields pick is still a complete leftover on Bavasi and company. You can't pin Jack for signing Fields. Not signing would mean the team would need to wait until next year to see this years signing take the field- the comp pick this year is not guaranteed and the signing would be almost guaranteed to be long and drawn out. Take Fields now, as opposed to next year with the 24 pick. Easy decision for Jack.)

The first real problem I do have with Zduriencik is the decision to send Clement to AAA. He is 25, mashes AAA pitching and has nothing left to prove. You've had your #3 pick for years, now is the time to see what you have.

Bad Monday to be a Mariner fan. Not the end of the world, but not what we wanted either.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tampa and the Mariners

ESPN has an article about David Price and if he should be sent to the minors. The quote from their GM is...

It's a fine line because we're so reliant on our young players, and we always will be. So development has to be the key. We can't do something that provides a slight benefit in '09 if it's going to be detrimental to 2010, '11 and '12. We can't run away from that. We have to maintain that mindset, or we will not be able to sustain success.
Compare that line of thinking with the way Brandon Morrow has been handled.

If Morrow ends up in AAA for some time, I think we can agree the new regime couldn't be more different from Bavasi and Hargrove.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Griffey playing situation likely to end ugly

I've already discussed my fear with Griffey- he wants to play the field and the management team will feel forced to play him more than they should. The pressure will come from multiple angles.

1) Griffey will let everyone know he prefers to play the field. Every 0-4 game will have a quote from Baker the next morning along the lines of "I'm used to playing every day" and "hard to come off the bench cold and stay loose" and every other anti-DH cliche you can come up with. Plus, don't forget Atlanta was ready to sign him to play the field. This will get mentioned at least 4 million times during the season.

2) Fans who want to see him play the outfield. Expect at least 500 quotes from kids about this.

3) Seattle Times. Story after story this summer will keep feeding one and two. It sells papers and creates controversy while the team continues along its rebuilding plan.

I just really fear this ends poorly. I hope I'm wrong and Don and Jack sit Griffey down and explain the best way to hit his incentives is to be a DH. If Griffey lets his ego get in the way and makes a big stink about it, things gets ugly fast.

What we should hope for-

* Griffey hits great early as a DH. Pray he hits a home run every time he steps to the plate as a DH.
* Griffey looks terrible in the field and feels terrible the next day physically. This will put an end to the madness.

Otherwise it will only be the inevitable injury that leads to Griffey sitting on the bench this year when his team takes the field.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Good stuff in Mariner land

As baseball fans we get a little antsy waiting for the games to count. Sometimes a little pot stirring can be fun as the days get warmer, and todays discussion re: the Mariners defense certainly fits the bill.

Geoff Baker gets things started by claiming the Mariners defense was above average this year.

I love it that Geoff is using advanced metrics to talk about defense. I love it Geoff is talking to people like John Dewan. For the average baseball fan who gets most of their information from the local paper, this is a fantastic trend.

However, while Geoff is making progress I have to say he has a ways to go still.

My position is simple- no one who actively watched the team last year can honestly say defense was not a serious issue. Really, it's no more complicated then that.

How anyone could watch Ritchie Sexson with a lateral range of 4 inches play the infield and not see a problem is a mystery. How anyone could watch Yuni throw wide after struggling to get to a routine ball and not see a problem is a mystery. Do we even need to talk about Raul?

I don't have an issue with Geoff talking with John or publishing the results. But he should have applied a basic sniff test. Sort of a "did my eyes concur with the data I am seeing now?" It would almost be as if someone went to Geoff and told him the Mariners actually won 82 games last year. The brain would immediately question the data.

The article should have been based more on the subject of "can you believe what I was just told" rather than simply taken as fact. There is no way Geoff can say he watched the team last year and didn't notice any problems. There is just no way.

I'm not a baseball scout but I'm an avid baseball fan. I've seen a fair amount of games over the years and to my beginner eyes the 2008 Mariners were terrible fielding the ball. If someone tells me they have proof otherwise I'll take a look at it, but I have to say I'll be mighty skeptical...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mariners "lose" money

Over at the Puget Sound Business Journal we hear the Mariners are reporting a loss for the 2008 season- link

Over at the PI- we get a little more info- link

We know the Mariners have been playing a PR game with the public for years, and the local newspapers and media outlets are only too willing to play along. So the Mariners say they lost money? Well by golly, that's what the local papers are going to report.

I'm a little more "cynical" than the local writers, so I tend to want more answers beyond just taking Lincoln and companies word for it.

The first thing that jumps out at you when you read the PFD reports from prior years is how little actual information they contain. Is there a special report posted elsewhere that actually contains real data, because the pdf snapshots they have on the site offer so little detail as to be completely useless. For example, it would be impossible to know the Mariners claimed to make $17.8 million in 2007 by looking at the PFD annual report. As explained in the PI, this number is calculated by a "special" formula. Why then can't the PFD more clearly explain this in the final report? Can't they produce a report that is actually readable and relevent? I guess not.

Just look at the breakdown of the agreed upon profit determiner: (how can you not laugh)

Input A= Number the team claims they made or lost for a given year
Input B= The claimed Depreciation/Amoritization of assets
Input C= Player signing bonuses (!??)
Input D= Capital Expenditures on ballpark (i.e. ballpark expenses)

A + B - C - D= Yearly Total Profit

Just look at how absurd this formula is. The Mariners are telling you for Input A, they lost $4.5 million in 2008. This is what a reader of the PI sees in the morning = "Mariners report losing $4.5 million in '08"

Except this number doesn't include all money they pay to players in 2008! When they sign a player like Ichiro to a new contract, often times a signing bonus is involved. (Same thing for draft picks- Josh Fields would be a perfect example when the team paid $1.75 million to bring him to camp.)

You can already see how to the common person the reported number is getting fishy as shit. The Mariners are telling you they lost $4.5 million last year, yet the simplest glance at the figure reveals even simple, annual expenses like signing draft picks are not even calculated when reaching the number.

What about normal upkeep like refreshed paint, carpet, changing the giant poster of Willie Ballgame out front etc... Most reasonable people would expect the Mariners to incur real, legitimate upkeep expenses for keeping Safeco open. Just like a homeowner who needs to replace a door knob or paint the house, this is a perfectly reasonable expense the Mariners are paying, so surely this is part of the debt that led to $4.5 million in losses, right?

Nope- The Mariners are reporting $4.5 million in losses and this number does NOT count for things like money out of pocket for keeping up Safeco.

This is where the dirty little secret is hiding, you just need to read beyond the headlines. Here is what the team is claiming-

2008 Mariner income: -$4.5 million
2008 Signing bonuses: $14.6 million
2008 Safeco capital expenditures: $2.5 million

That is $21.6 million the Mariners are claiming they lost last year by playing the full season, signing players and draft picks and keeping Safeco clean and beautiful. Yet in the end, they actually end up with a $1.9 million profit for 2008. Not what the head lines read, not what the Mariners want you to believe, but thanks to that little old depreciation calculation the team is actually doing just fine.

Here is a real world example of how the Mariners play games with our money. Say you have a friend who has a great job and makes good money- $100,000/yr

He's single, has no debt and at the end of the year he tells you he is broke and lost money last year. Puzzled by this, given he still has a good income you ask how he became broke.

Simple, he says- I started the year with $4,000 in my bank account, but at the end I only had $3,000. Therefore, I lost $1,000 working last year.

You then ask him if he has a 401k he contributes to every month. Yep.
Didn't he buy a new car with cash? Yep
Didn't he put in a new bathroom that will make the value of his house rise? Yep
Doesn't he declare his mortgage interest on his taxes and expects a big refund this year? Yep

So in this example, our sample friends net worth might have risen by $20,000 during the year. Yet by focusing purely on one number (bank account statement) he can claim he lost money. It's a total bullshit, wouldn't pass muster in any Accounting 101 class, but if it makes him feel better or worse so be it.

The Mariners are doing the same thing to the public. They are not outright lying when they say they lost $4.5 million in 2008. Not in a legal sense. They are creating a very arbitrary view of how they define profit or loss, and it's not until the PFD applies even basic accounting principles that we see the Mariners did, in fact actually make a profit last year.

For 2009, the Mariners are cutting the team budget by $20 million. If attendence stays reasonable close to last year, they will do just fine.

Count on them making money in 2009, but don't count on any remaining papers from truthfully reporting it in 2010, at least from the headlines.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Beltre to the Yankees?

With A-Rod out of the lineup for at least 35 games, you know the Beltre-to-Yanks rumors are going to heat up. Beltre is in the last year of his contract and the Mariners are coming off a 101 loss season. The #2 pick in June is not going to restock the system alone, and it would seem unlikely Beltre resigns with this team during the off season. (All it takes is one team to offer him a crazy contract and the Mariners lose Beltre for some comp picks in 2010 if you favor the wait and see aproach- no thanks.)

The smart move is to shop Beltre at the trade deadline and at least see what he brings.

But shouldn't you call the Yanks and see if there is interest right now? What would you expect for Beltre if the Yankees are interested?

How about Austin Jackson for Beltre straight up? The Mariners lose their starting 3rd basemen but get a CF of the future in return? Perhaps Brackman and Melancon to restock the system with pitching talent? I would expect at least one top three pick of their system with some lower level guys with potential to make it worth Jack's time.

At least call the Yankees and see if they are interested, don't wait by the phone or listen to internet rumors. The pressure on the Yankees to win now in the most competitive division in baseball is enourmous. The Mariners have exactly what the Yankees need to keep up with Boston and Tampa, and Beltre is unlikely to be a part of this teams future.

Call Jack- you know what the Mariners need better than anyone. This is one rumor I hope becomes reality.

Strasburg hype

Every baseball fan who follows the Mariners at all online knew of Strasburg last year. He was the front runner to be the #1 pick this June, and early indications are doing nothing from stopping those expectations. It will be crazy to expect the Nationals to pass on him barring any serious injury this spring.

Which serves as a friendly reminder of just how stupid our front office was last year. Consider-
  • Refusing to lend any credence to non-espn, non-local-beat-writer analysts who predicted the team was not actually that close to competing for the playoffs and had serious roster construction issues
  • Supported trading away half the farm system for Bedard, then acting surprised he actually isn't all that likable while publicly declaring him our "#1"
  • Fired the manager and GM when they realized what everyone else had known for years (neither is qualified for the jobs they were in)
  • Signed Johjima to a ridiculous extension, thereby ironically worsening the clubhouse atmosphere they foolishly over value
  • Went along with an insane plan to avoid 100 losses at all costs (who would really care if the number was 98, 101, 105... years later we all argued in vain)
  • Nixed the Washburn trade
  • Cut the 2009 budget 20%
We could go on, but let's just say it was a ROUGH year for Chuck Armstrong and Howard Lincoln. If they were in any industry other than baseball with it's non-competitive market, the Mariners would be out of business in this economy by now. The only smart thing they did was in hiring our new GM.

Of all the stupid decisions last year, I doubt playing for double digit losses really stood out for Chuck and company when the season ended. I doubt Chuck and Howard stood on Safeco after the series sweep of Oakland and realized just what damage had been done.

They made the decision to "play hard" and give the fans their moneys worth and it will very likely bite them in the ass. Good CEO's have to make smart, and often hard decisions. The decision to not retain the #1 pick is going to look really foolish if Strasburg continues to pitch like many expect him too.

Fans knew there was a Lebron James like figure coming to a franchise this June. There is always risk with pitchers, but that works both ways. With risk comes reward.

Lincoln and Armstrong either knew the risk last summer and didn't care, or weren't even clued in to the game enough to know about a player 99% of online fans have been following. Either way, it further supports the idea the Mariners management made a series of collosal mistakes before the hiring of Jack Zduriencik.

And a pitcher from California is doing every thing he can to not let us forget it.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Sweeney stupidity

It's hard to be a sports fan in Seattle and not be subjected to KJR. Whether it's Stark from ESPN, Krueger etc... there is no way you want to miss these interviews but at the same time you cringe at some of the drivel that comes out.

We've all heard the local media overplay the subject of veteran leadership and how clubhouse tension doomed last years team. The reality of course is lack of talent is what caused the team to suck last year. Period. Does the media like to mention players like Sexson and Vidro are no where to be found this year? (It's not a common theme, and IMO should be mentioned far more prominently then it has.)

No, instead they focus on "moving the runners along" and "playing the game the right way."

Which leads me to Mike Sweeney.

The odds he makes this team should be low. He's old, he's been injured and been ineffective. Not a good combination for a team rebuilding. Probably the biggest roadblock would appear to be the Griffey signing. Suddenly the team need for "veteran leadership" appears to be filled.

But if you listen to some members of the media, you'd get the impression the Mariners almost HAVE to keep Sweeney on the team. A calming influence, a veteran leader, a solid citizen... install overused cliche at your leisure.

The single overriding skill the team should be focusing on for Mike Sweeney is can he hit. Does he have the skills to make this team win ball games WHILE ON THE FIELD. That should make up 99% of the decision making process. You can immediately identify the media hacks who begin with the other stuff first when talking about Sweeney, as if the hitting component is a bonus.

I don't have anything against Sweeney, and if he can fill in a short term gap so be it. But if he does make the team, it's probably a reflection of just how little talent stood before him. And that's a much bigger problem than lack of leadership in the clubhouse.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Griffey and the DH position

We know it's best if Griffey DH's. We know Griffey doesn't want to DH, and doesn't hide his desire to play the field as much as possible.

What's a first time manager and GM to do?

Cave in and let him play the field more than he should. The team will use every iced knee, every long plane ride it can to put him in the DH spot, but every press conference, every post-game analysis will include the topic of Griffey and LF. Two opposing positions, one inevitable outcome.

I wish I had more faith in the new regime, but honestly I think they have to bite the bullet and play to pander the fans and try to buy time. They'll put Griffey in the field more than he should and eventually he'll get hurt.

It's not being negative, it's just being realistic. Griffey should play the field no more than once a week. Griffey will play the field 3+ time a week and he won't make it through the season without breaking down. It's as obvious as the sun coming up.