Mariners Have Won the James Paxton Trade

Justus Sheffield beats the Colorado Rockies August 8th. Photo by Ken Lambert/Seattle times.

After Mariners General Manager announced the team’s “step back” in October of 2018, it took little more than a month for him to trade the team’s most marketable commodity, lefty starter James Paxton. Paxton was coming off his best year with 28 starts and 160.1 innings pitched. Paxton was statistically great with 11 wins, a 3.76 ERA, 208 strikeouts and a 1.098 WHIP. He threw a no-hitter at the Blue Jays. More importantly, he’d been able to stay relatively healthy, avoiding the multiple IL stints that dogged most of his career. It was a perfect time to trade him for the most value.

On November 20, 2018 the Yankees cashed in on Paxton’s potential star status by sending the Mariners pitchers Justus Sheffield and Eric Swanson and outfield Don Thompson Williams.

How did it all turn out? 2019, you will recall, was a bit of a bust for the M’s. Not a surprise. The Dipoto “step-back” was a full-scale tear down as he tried to make the M’s younger and more athletic. Veterans like Edwin Encarnacion and Jay Bruce, acquired through trades were quickly farmed out while Mallex Smith and Domingo Santana pretended to play the outfield. The M’s finished with a 68-94 record, which could have been much worse if they hadn’t miraculously rushed out to a 13-2 start.

In Paxton’s first year with the Yankees, the big guy looked pretty good. Only one stint on the DL. Paxton made 29 starts, the most of his career. But in those starts he only amassed 150.1 innings. His ERA, FIP, and WHIP were all elevated (sorry.) His K/BB decreased and he became more homer prone. In three playoff starts the Big Maple amassed a total of 13 innings.

For Sheffield and Swanson the bar was pretty low. And honestly I’m not sure they met it in 2019. Swanson was the the first to arrive with the big league club. He appeared in 27 games, including eight starts. Despite bringing the heat, Swanson mostly got shelled, posting a 5.74 ERA, 5.96 FIP, 76 ERA+, allowing 2.6 HR/9. Yuck. 2020 hasn’t been much better with the big righty sliding to an unsightly 15.19 ERA, 9.52 FIP, and an amazing 5.1 HR/9 in a brief five appearance stint. Don’t know if Eric is done as the M’s shuffle through bullpen pieces, but he might be.

In 2019 Thompson-Williams played for the Arkansas Travellers beside Kyle Lewis, Jarred Kelenic and Jake Fraley. He slashed .238/.298/.391, which was much less than his impressive rostermates. Progress for DTS was stymied when he tore his achilles tendon in February. With an outfield packed full with ROY candidate Kyle Lewis, and top-ranked prospects ,including the addition of Taylor Trammell and Philip Ervin, his path forward for 2020 is at best uncertain.

Sheffield did not look good in 2019. Though he spent some time with the Yankees in 2018, he began the year in Tacoma. Faring poorly against combination of the juiced 2019 ball and the hitter-friendly PCL ballparks, the Mariners sent Sheff to pitcher-friendly Dickey-Stevens Park, home of the AA Arkansas Travelers, where he helped pitch that team into the Texas League series. His performance earned him a September call-up where things didn’t go well. A high ERA was supported by lots of walks, too many homers and just too many pitches for too few innings. If he was going to be a starter in the big leagues, Justus Sheffield was going to have to get better.

With the Covid-shortened season, I suppose I shouldn’t get too excited about anything. Regardless, with a pretty rocky 2019 entree to the big leagues, Sheffield had something to prove. Unfortunately, he has about a third of a season to show whether he should be considered a rotation piece in an organization with tons of highly regarded rotation prospects.

It seems to me that Sheffield has done his part. In his seven starts he’s had four really good ones, and three not so good ones. Overall his stats are acceptable and show considerable growth over his 2019 September showings. His ERA is down to 4.34 from 5.50. His FIP has shrunk from 4.71 to 3.09. His WHIP is at 1.313 from 1.722. His strikeouts are up, his homers and walks are down. This is better. Sheffield’s outings are must-watch. Gone are the long drawn-out pitch-a-thons that plagued him in 2019. He’s become much more efficient and a much tougher at-bat for hitters.

Most importantly, Justus Sheffield has made all his starts. James Paxton has joined the very long Yankee list of wounded on the IL. Though he’s made five starts for the Bronx Bombers, he’s been mostly awful. Career highs in ERA, FIP, WHIP, hits and homers allowed. Not good.

Most importantly, Paxton is a free agent after 2020. Admittedly, it’s a weird, very short year, and one shouldn’t put too much emphasis on the shortened 60 game season. However, there is every possibility that Paxton walks and signs with someone else and the Yankees are left holding an empty bag with a hole in it after 2020. Meanwhile the M’s are hanging on to an improving Sheffield who isn’t even arbitration eligible until 2023.

Mariners win this trade.

My Favorite Players: Dan Wilson

Dan Wilson 1

In the waning Kingdome years and the early days of Safeco Field, Lorri, my wonderful wife took an interest in the Mariners.  Yeah, she’s kind of a bandwagon fan, but she would follow the game closely, whether we were in the ballpark or watching on television. She loved Little Joey Cora, Junior, The Bone and the Big Unit.  But if you asked her who her favorite player was, it was always the same.

Dan Wilson, the Mariners catcher. Why?  He was just really good.  The best player in baseball.  The best catcher who ever played the game.  Dan Wilson should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Know-it-all me would snort and shake my head and have another beer.

It wasn’t until after Dan Wilson retired that I came to appreciate what a wonderful ballplayer he was.  Here is something to consider. Dan Wilson’s first year in the majors was 1992 with the Reds.  He came to the Mariners in a trade that sent Erik Hansen and Brett Boone to Cincinnati for Wilson and reliever Bobby Ayala in 1994, and he was the starting Mariner catcher until 2004, when he tried to retire, but came back for 11 games in 2005.  So, 16 years since Wilson retired.  How valuable was he to the team?  These are the players who were the starting catchers since Wilson’s farewell:

  • 2005  Miguel Olivo
  • 2006  Kenji Johjima
  • 2007  Kenji Johjima
  • 2008  Kenji Johjima
  • 2009  Rob Johnson
  • 2010  Adam Moore, Rob Johnson
  • 2011  Miguel Olivo
  • 2012  Miguel Olivo, Jesus Montero
  • 2013  Mike Zunino, Kelly Shopach, Jesus Montero
  • 2014  Mike Zunino
  • 2015  Mike Zunino
  • 2016  Chris Ianetta
  • 2017  Mike Zunino
  • 2018  Mike Zunino
  • 2019  Omar Narvaez, Tom Murphy

So, over 16 seasons, the M’s called on ten players to fill the role Wilson held for 14 years.  It’s not that the other players didn’t have good years, or didn’t have some aspect of their game that was good, they simply didn’t provide the consistency that Wilson offered throughout his career. Note: In the case of Jesus Montero, all parts of his game were bad.

So how good was Dan Wilson.  Usually when I think of catchers and break down their numbers, there are three things I look for: how well do they handle a pitching staff; how good are they defensively, and finally how good are they at the plate?

Let’s start with the latter, because it’s the easiest to quantify.  Dan Wilson played at a boom time in offensive stats.  Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds were setting home run records-with a little bit of help.  Even Brady Anderson hit 50 dingers in 1996.  Everyone was doing it. Dan Wilson, not so much.  Catchers weren’t expected to hit a lot, but Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez were stand-outs.  Wilson hit a pedestrian .262/.302/.382 career slash, and 80 career OPS+. Not terrible numbers, but below major league average for the time he played.  However, these numbers were pretty consistent throughout his career. And there was that May 3rd game in the Kingdome in 1998:

One of Wilson’s 88 career homers.

So if Dan Wilson didn’t have a blistering offensive career, how did he handle pitchers?  This is the hardest to measure.  There are no stats for how Wilson juggled a staff that included Randy Johnson (both the good Randy and the bad Randy,) Jamie Moyer, Bobby Ayala, Norm Charlton and Kazuhiro Sasaki.

Dan Wilson 3

After he was acquired from the Reds, manager Lou Piniella immediately held Wilson responsible for the success of the pitching staff.  If Randy Johnson or Chris Bosio were getting hammered, it must be the pitches Wilson was calling.  As we all know, Piniella wasn’t shy about his opinions, especially about pitching. Wilson quickly became a student of scouting reports and preparing pitchers for games. In Michael Emmerich’s “100 Things Every Mariners Fan Should Know,” Piniella characterized him as “a caring catcher.”  Chris Bosio said “He calls a good game. He can adapt to pretty much anybody’s style.” It’s probably no accident that Randy Johnson and Dan Wilson went in to the Mariners Hall of Fame together in 2012.

Today there are all kinds of newfangled statistics to measure catcher’s defense.  Pitch framing, stolen base runs saved are two to be sure, but they started measuring these at the very end of Wilson’s career.  One way we can calculate things is to look at wild pitches and passed balls in a career.  Wilson was grew up a hockey player and played goalie and he used these to his advantage to keep balls from getting through him.  It’s important, because if a pitcher has confidence the catcher can block balls in the dirt, then he’ll throw that splitter that explodes at the bottom of the strike zone, or the curve in the dirt a batter may swing and miss. How good was Dan Wilson at keeping balls in front of him instead of through him?

Two numbers-passed balls and wild pitches.  For his career, that’s 1281 games and 10,362.2 innings, Wilson allowed 42 passed balls, those are physical mistakes he made. Wilson also allowed 318 wild pitches, those are bad pitches over, under and around him by the pitchers he caught.  I often think these all occurred in one really bad game the Big Unit was having.

Remember those numbers 42 and 318.  How do you compare.  Well, I started with Baseball Reference because they have career lists of everything, including career passed balls.  It starts with Pop Snyder  who played mostly in the American Association from 1873-91 with 763.  Remember, no fancy gloves or shin guards in those days, so Snyder probably also was on the career lists for most bruises. The list ends with Tom Dowse, 45.  Dowse played three seasons! To be clear, in 1997, a year in which Wilson caught all or part of 144 games, he had one passed ball. Let’s compare to some guys you might recognize.

  • Johnny Bench     17 seasons               94 passed balls   446 wild pitches
  • Cary Carter          19 seasons              84 passed balls    464 wild pitches
  • Mike Piazza         15 seasons              102 passed balls  356 wild pitches
  • Ivan Rodriguez   21 seasons              127 passed balls  830 wild pitches
  • Jorge Posada        17 seasons              142 passed balls  501 wild pitches
  • Yadier Molina      16 seasons               86 passed balls   476 wild pitches

To be fair, each of these catchers, the first four in the Hall of Fame, caught more innings than Wilson, Rodriguez over 20,000 innings. but the numbers still speak for themselves. It’s not that Johnny Bench was a bad defensive catcher, it’s that Wilson was just really good at this aspect of the game.

Dan Wilson 2

Just one more quick snapshot.  At the beginning I made a list of all the starting catchers the M’s had after Wilson’s retirement.  How good has Mariners catching been in just this area since Wilson’s retirement?

  • Miguel Olivo                                                         2005    7 passed balls       28  wild pitches
  • Kenji Johjima                                                        2006-8 22 passed balls   102 wild pitches
  • Rob Johnson                                                          2009     9  passed balls     32 wild pitches
  • Rob Johnson/Adam Moore                                 2010  16  passed balls    53 wild pitches
  • Miguel Olivo                                                          2011  11  passed balls    59 wild pitches
  • Miguel Olivo/Jesus Montero                               2012 15 passed balls      45 wild pitches
  • Jesus Montero/Kelly Shoppach/Mike Zunino   2013  8  passed balls      52 wild pitches
  • Mike Zunino                                                      2014-15 14 passed balls    110 wild pitches
  • Chris Iannetta                                                         2016   6 passed balls      34 wild pitches
  • Mike Zunino                                                      2017-18   20 passed balls    90 wild pitches
  • Omar Narvaez/Tom Murphy                                2019   6 passed balls     75 wild pitches

So let’s just summarize and compare.

  • Dan Wilson                                  14 seasons   42 passed balls         318 wild pitches
  • All Mariner starting catchers  16 seasons   134 passed balls        680 wild pitches

Okay, one more defensive nugget. Baseball Reference lists fewest errors by a catcher.  The lowest number is 45.  That’s the number of errors made by Dan Wilson.  Except his name isn’t there, it’s J.C. Martin, a mostly part time catcher with a bunch of teams but notably the Miracle Mets in 1969.  His 45 errors occurred in 4553 innings or a little more than one third of Wilson’s. Dan the Man was good.

One final story.  I began by telling how much my wife loved Dan Wilson.  It seems this was not uncommon.  Married women loved Dan Wilson.  Larry Larue commented on this in his book, “Major League Tales.”  Wilson, self-effacing as always, shrugged this off. Lorri admired his work with adoptive children, smiled when Dan and his wife Annie were able to adopt Sofia from Bulgaria, and smiled even wider when Annie became pregnant.

One Christmas, I don’t know how many years ago, Wilson was signing Christmas ornaments and other bits for one of his favorite charities.  I decided Lorri needed to have one of these for the tree.  I drove up to University Village in Seattle, some 40 miles from my house.  I got in the surprisingly short line, as Wilson and Sofia, moved the line along.  When it was my turn I smiled and shook his hand, and told him how much my wife admired his play.  His only response was a weary “Really,” as though he’d heard it a thousand times before. maybe that day.

All statistics from FanGraphs and Baseball Reference.com

My favorite players: Mike Cameron

Note: on Monday the Athletic began sharing favorite players by all the columnists.  I thought it was a super idea and no way better to write something about baseball than talking about the guys you love.  I started writing this on Tuesday.  But I’m not a fast writer, and damned if Corey Brock didn’t post his favorite player, Mike Cameron on Wednesday.  So here is mine on Thursday. 

As the 1999 season wrapped up with the M’s out of the playoffs, the Mariner brass did what any major league front office would do, and that’s open negotiations with it’s franchise-best-ever-player for a contract extension.  But Ken Griffey, Jr. was having none of it.  After a year in which he hit 48 homers and slashed .285/.384/.576, good enough to place him 10th in MVP voting, Junior wanted out of Seattle.  He wanted to be closer to his home in Cincinnati.  When the M’s thought they had a deal with the Mets for the future Hall of Famer, Griffey, a 10-5 player,  nixed the idea, and demanded a trade to the Reds.

I was a Ken Griffey, Jr. fan. I saw his first home game, his first home run.  Still have the ticket stubs. I couldn’t believe he’d put my beloved Mariners in this position.  Not only did the best player in the world want to leave town, but he effectively put the M’s in an impossible quandry.  Keep an unhappy Junior until the end of 2000 and let him walk.  An unhappy Junior is definitely not something you want on your team.  Or trade Junior to the Reds, with the Cincinnati manager Jim Bowden holding all the cards. In the end, new general manger Pat Gillick negotiated a trade-and-sign deal that sent Griffey to Cincinnati in return for pitcher Brett Tomko, outfielder Mike Cameron, a highly rated shortstop prospect Antonio, and minor league pitcher Jake Wood.

The trade was widely regarded as a bust for the Mariners, forced on them by their departing superstar.  In reality, Junior’s departure to the Reds signaled a precipitous decline, his eight years in the Blue Chip City littered with injury and disappointment. By shedding his salary, Gillick was able to add free-agent talent to the team that shaped the 2001 Mariners including Brett Boone, Jeff Nelson, and Ichiro Suzuki.

Mike Cameron was the player who staked out Griffey’s center field pasture for his own room to roam for four years in Seattle. Cammie couldn’t be Junior, among the most popular athletes in the world. Jim Bowden called him “The Michael Jordan of baseball.”  Cameron never hit more than 30 home runs in a season.  He didn’t wear his hat backwards, though it always seemed curiously askew.  He didn’t have Junior’s movie star good-looks or his quick sense of humor.  And he didn’t have that swing, that beautiful swing, that rivals only Ted Williams as an icon of baseball at its most basic.

Though Cameron said he never felt the pressure to “be” Ken Griffey, Jr., one way to win a crowd over (remember, the Mariners were drawing nearly 3 million fans a year in 1999) is to give them something to talk about.  On April 7th, his fourth game at Safeco field, Cameron went over the center field wall to rob Derek Jeter of a home run, He had me at hello.

Cameron was a great center fielder, by the numbers, one of the best of all time. While Griffey, received the plaudits with winning ten Gold Gloves, the numbers suggest he was an average center fielder. In his 2011 book Wizardry on the best fielders of all time, Michael Humphries ranks Cameron second behind Andruw Jones from the contemporary era (note: pre-Mike Trout.) Brandon Warne in his 2012 farewell article for FanGraphs ranked Cameron as the eighth best defensive centerfielder of all time. What is clear from watching him play a shallow center field, is that he could take away a lot of base hits, while still making the big plays over his head.

While he couldn’t be a Ken Griffey, Jr. at the plate, Cameron was no slouch.  His OPS+ for his four years in Seattle was 108, 123, 109, and 108, with 100 being average. That’s adjusted for park and position. His wRC+ is likewise above average at 110, 120, 113, 110.  Yes, Cameron could absolutely strike out with the best of them, leading the league with 176 in 2002, but he could also hit the ball of the park and steal a base when it was needed.

He had his moments at the plate. Remember his homer off former Mariner Jeff Fassero in the 19th inning to beat the Red Sox 5-4 on August 1, 2000?

What about his four homer game against against the White Sox May 2, 2002?

And maybe the best part is that Cameron enjoyed it all so much.  He always played the game with a ton of energy and a huge smile that endeared him to fans and teammates.

I could never figure out why Bill Bavasi was in such a hurry to usher Cammie out of town after the 2003 season. Of course, I could never understand most of Bavasi’s moves.  He was followed in center field by Randy Winn, the ever injured Jeremy Reed, Willie Bloomquist, nice guys all, but never Cameron’s equal.  Until Franklin Gutierrez’s miracle season of 2009, they struggled to fill that position. It was hard to see him go when it was clear he really wanted to be in Seattle.

Cameron left to play for the Mets, signing a three year $19.5 million deal.  The following year the Mets brought in all-star center fielder Carlos Beltran, and moved Cameron to right. Both players were badly injured on August 11, 2005 when Beltran and Cameron collided while diving for a ball in no-man’s land. Beltran suffered a concussion.  Cameron also was concussed but also had multiple facial fractures.

Mike was traded to the Padres the following November, which meant he’d play the Mariners in interleague games.  Remember, they’re our rivals.  In his first game back during the 2006 season, Mike Cameron received a standing ovation.  I was thrilled to see him sign a minor league contract with the M’s for one day in 2012, so he could retire as a Mariner.  One of my favorites.

 

The Hall of Fame Vote-guesses and predictions

It’s that time of year again, and since Edgar finally made it into the Hall, I confess to following the vote tallies less carefully.  Ryan Thibodaux, as always, does a great public service for those of us obsessed by the Hall with his BBHOF Tracker.  However, for an in depth look at the votes, I encourage you to link to his amazing spreadsheet that shows each candidate and each public vote cast.

It’s always kind of a horserace, with Derek Jeter leading the field with 100%, followed by Larry Walker in his last race with 84.7%, Curt Schilling, overcoming years of foot-in-mouth disease with 80%, and the tainted Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens still in the competition with 77.1 and 75.7% respectively.  Will they all cross the finish line as winners on announcement day?  Probably not.

Derek Jeter

Jeter will be the year’s big winner.  I fully expect him to receive a unanimous vote and he’s completely deserving.  He has the counting numbers: 3,465 hits and 260 homeruns despite his pretty average defense will grab the traditionalists. His career 72.4 WAR and Jay Jaffe’s 57.4 JAWS rating leaves him well above the average ratings of shortstops in the BBHOF. Jeter was the leader of some very good Yankees teams, maybe the smartest ballplayer I ever saw.

Larry Walker

With 35% of the votes cast, it looks like Walker gets in too. It is likely to be much closer than the current margin, but he has picked up 22 new votes among the 139 counted. He’ll need 187 more votes to make 75%. Larry Walker was a wonderful player; he’d have my vote.

The biggest obstacle to Curt Schilling’s election is Curt Schilling’s lack of discretion. With a Twitter account as radioactive as certain politicians, Schilling’s political, cultural and racial views offend many.  His endorsement of lynching journalists a couple of years ago cost him the votes of many BBWAA voters.  He would not receive my vote for human being of the year. However, he was a terrific pitcher, a fighter on the mound, and great big-game pitcher.  That said, I don’t think his percentage will hold for the final count.  I could be wrong, but I have a feeling he’ll be back for a ninth year on the ballot. I hate the bloody sock, but it was the bloody sock. I’d hold my nose and give him my vote.

I don’t think Bonds and Clemens make it this year.  This is the 8th year for both of them on the ballot, and induction by the writers just doesn’t look good. Though the count is right at the magic number, look at the votes.  Bonds has gained one and lost one voter from 2019.  Clemens lost two voters.  The later votes and non-public votes are much more negative. Both were just over 59% last year.  They could see a slight tick up, but steroid use remains a polarizing issue for voters, and I don’t see that changing enough to push them over the top this year or any year.  2022, their last on the writers’ ballot should be an interesting one, with a full blown presidential election-style campaign to get them in.  My vote is still no, and I don’t see it changing.

Lots of interesting trends among the remaining candidates.  Because the number of obvious candidates is pretty thin, quite a few have gained ground.  Below is the list of those that seem to be building toward election.  Not this year, but possibly for the future.

Scott Rolen    3rd year    50.7%    +39 votes

Omar Vizquel   3rd year  46.5%  +13 votes

Gary Sheffield   6th year   39.6%   +34 votes

Manny Ramirez   4th year  36.1%   +9 votes

Todd Helton       2nd year   35.4%   +25 votes

Billy Wagner     5th year     33.3%    +26 votes

Jeff Kent              7th year    28.5%     +21 votes

Andruw Jones    3rd year    27.1%    +23 votes

Sammy Sosa        8th year    18.8%    +6 votes

Andy Pettite         2nd year   12.5%     +7 votes

Of the 2020 nominees, in addition to Jeter, the only candidate likely to continue is Bobby Abreu, and he’ll need to pick up a few more votes to remain.  He is currently at 6.7%.  I hope he’s able to stick and allow another year of discussion.

Of those on the list, my certain choices would be Rolen, Vizquel and Jones.  I could be convinced on Sheffield, Helton and Kent.  Ramirez is a two time drug bust after the beginning of the testing regime.  Not interested, colorful personality or no.

I’m interested to see how this all turns out.  More later.

 

To Mariner Fans: Enjoy Every Sandwich

Vogelbach homer Royals
Daniel Vogelbach’s 10th inning homer beats the Royals. The Mariners record stands at an MLB best 13-2

On October 2, 2002 singer/songwriter Warren Zevon appeared with long-time friend David Letterman on Late Night.  He made a startling announcement.  After decades of avoiding doctors, but fighting chronic shortness of breath, Zevon was diagnosed with lung cancer that spread throughout his body.  A year later, he’d be dead.

When Letterman asked what it was like to live with this diagnosis, Zevon’s response was

“You’re reminded to enjoy every sandwich, and every minute playing with the guys, and being with with the kids and everything.”

I swear I’ve begun a hundred posts since the Hot Stove League began.  I began a post lamenting Ichiro’s final years as a Mariner, while celebrating his accomplishments.  I cheered the M’s on in the early morning hours in Tokyo. I’ve watched with excitement, joy, punctuated with occasional   outbursts of  exasperation as the Mariners opened the season with an 13-2 record.

I’ve read and heard a dozen baseball scribes explain why Seattle’s success is not sustainable.  No team with this many weaknesses can continue to club the ball the way this team has.  No team depending on mortals like Tim Beckham, an aging Edwin Encarnacion, Jay Bruce, and a Daniel Vogelbach (whatever that is) can continue scoring at the same rate as the 1932 New York Yankees.

And those weaknesses.  The shortstop and third baseman make every thrown ball to first base an adventure.  The first baseman (take your pick-Bruce, Encarnacion, Vogelbach) have all the range of Rodin’s “The Thinker.” Center fielder Mallex Smith has a weenie arm.  And that’s just on defense with it’s league leading -29 Defensive Runs Saved.  The starters have hung in there twice through the rotation, Felix Hernandez’s attack of the stomach flu on Monday notwithstanding.  The bullpen, however, is a bit more shaky.  Though some of the guys, Brandon Brennan, Roenis Elias, Anthony Swarzak and others have looked good, some would be shot to them moon as toxic waste on a different team.

Is this team for real?  Will they continue to score nearly eight runs per game?  Probably not.  But they have some things going for them that previous Mariners pretenders do not. They finally get this Control the Zone thing. They lead the American league in on-base percentage by nearly 20 points with .373.  They also see more pitches than any team in baseball.  The M’s lead the league in home runs and average, and to top it off they lead the league in OPS by a whopping 100 points. That only happens if the entire team is in on the fun. It’s not the Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz show anymore Pokey. Just to top things off, this is not your Mom’s big guy with muscles smacking the ball out of the park a la 1963, though they do some of that too.  Not stuck playing station to station, they lead the league in walks, stolen bases, and sacrifice flies. The team is hitting on all cylinders.

Will it continue?  Can this rebuilt lineup continue to win at their current rate?  Not likely.  All teams struggle to hit, and the Mariners are mostly winning with nightly heroics at the plate from somebody, as they struggle to get better in those other areas.  They’ve had the good fortune to play the Athletics and Red Sox, slow out of the gate, and some teams that simply aren’t very good in the Angels, White Sox and Royals.  They’ve beaten those guys, in some cases badly.  And honestly some Mariners teams with higher expectations than these guys have struggled to do beat bad teams.

But when the M’s open their six game series at home tonight they can look forward to facing Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole as Houston rolls in for a weekend series, followed by Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer with the Indians.  The pitching will be tougher, and we’ll find out just how good the Monsters of T-Mobile Park really are.

Look, the the 2019 Mariners are unrecognizable from the 2018 team that also got off to a strong start, but disappointed.  These guys weren’t supposed to accomplish much, and for the first three weeks of the season they’ve been the most entertaining team in baseball.  I still think they will be fun to watch, and believe their weaknesses will become a bit softer as the season goes on.  But I don’t think they’ll be able to win it all, or even make a playoff spot.  I do think they’ll be the most fun Mariner team to watch since 2001.

For Mariners fans, my advice is to take it a game at a time.  The Astros are in town tonight, with hated ex-Mariner Wade Miley on the mound.  Here’s hoping they give him the Ivan Nova treatment.  Remember to keep them in your heart.

 

 

Edgar At Last: A Hall of Fame Wrap up

edgar, moose, mo
Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, and Mariano Rivera are locked and loaded for their July 21st induction date.

It’s been about 48 hours since the Baseball Hall of Fame announced Edgar Martinez will officially enter its ranks.  After all the celebrations and sweeping up of same were over, there were some interesting observations on this year’s vote.

As a devoted follower of Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame ballot tracker, it was interesting to see this year’s votes trickle in.

First, I think we expend far too much energy worrying about who should or should not be a unanimous candidate.  All apologies to Mo Rivera whom I greatly admire and fervently believe should be in the Hall, but it’s far more important to be at 75% + 1 than it is to get everyone’s vote. So, will this message matter when Derek Jeter, his long Yankee career, his .838 post-season OPS and 3,465 hits are on the ballot?  It will be interesting. I can hear wails from the Bronx to Puyallup. That said, congratulations to Rivera for being the first unanimous candidate.

There was an interesting comparison between the final vote tabulations for Roy Halladay and Edgar.  First, and interestingly, Doc and Edgar finished with identical vote totals, 363 votes for 85.4%.  Just as interesting however, is where the two were on Thibodaux’s Tracker heading into Tuesday.  Doc seemed a lock for a 90+% vote, while Edgar was hovering right around 90%.  In year’s past, Martinez lost a big chunk as the non-public votes were revealed.  In the final count Edgar lost only about 4.5% to the non-public count, while Halladay lost about 7.5%

In his Twitter post, Thibodaux notes the difference between support for Edgar on public and private ballots narrowed considerably in 2019.

2018: 77.4%/51.9% (25.5% difference)

2019: 90.2%/78.9% (11.3% difference)

Probably the difference between Edgar’s election and failure.

The election of Mike Mussina was a pleasant surprise.  Virtually all the projections had him a tick to the wrong side of 75%.  Instead he finished a tick to the right side of 75%, with 76.7%

With Edgar safely elected to the Hall, it won’t end my interest in the voting cycle.  It takes my mind off the Mariners rebuild, and away from presidential politics. The 2020 class is weak.  The only lock is Jeter, and there are few new candidates likely to make the 5% cut.  The interesting players will be the holdovers.  The players who received at least 15% finished as follows

Curt Schilling                      60.9%                    7th year

Roger Clemens                 59.5%                    7th year

Barry Bonds                        59.1 %                   7th year

Larry Walker                       54.6%                    9th year

Omar Vizquel                     42.8%                    2nd year

Manny Ramirez                22.8%                    3rd year

Jeff Kent                              18.1%                    6th year

Scott Rolen                         17.2%                    2nd year

Billy Wagner                       16.7%                    4th year

Todd Helton                       16.5%                    1st year

Omitted from this list is Fred McGriff who falls off the ballot after 10 years.  The Crime Dog garnered greater gains than any candidate except Larry Walker, and finished with 39.8%.  I began voting for him in IBWAA elections a couple of years ago.  He is a worthy candidate and I earnestly hope he is treated fairly by the Today’s Game Committee in 2021.

Looking to next year’s vote, it is easy to imagine that Jeter will be the only candidate elected.  Curt Schilling made significant progress this year, improving by 9.4%.  The remaining , distance to 75% is a significant leap, not impossible, but will depend how much Schilling can keep his Twitter feed in check.

The biggest advance on the list was Walker who moved from 34.1% to 54.6%.  Next year will be his final year on the ballot-his Edgar year.  It will take a considerable leap for him to get to 75%, and a rallying cry on his behalf of considerable proportions.  He’ll have to overcome the anti-Coors field crowd, but he was a terrific, if oft-injured, all-around player, and a further look at his numbers will show that..

The steady upward momentum for Bonds and Clemens pretty well stalled out after some movement on the selection of Bud Selig and Tony LaRussa to the Hall by the Today’s Game Committee. They picked up only three votes in 2019.  It will be interesting to see if they get a big boost heading into the last year or two of eligibility. I expect a major media bloodletting over the PED issue in year 10 if these guys haven’t made their way into the Hall.

The others on the list will have to mount an effective campaign to move their candidacies forward.  In the coming year, I promise to take a closer look at Jeff Kent’s career to see if he should make his way on to my ballot.  It’s challenging, given his offensive prowess at second base to understand why he is on so few ballots, unless it is his reputation for crankiness with his teammates, the press, and the rest of the known world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nelson Cruz’s last gift to the Mariners

Nelson Cruz goodbye

December 4, 2014.  The Seattle Mariners signed Nelson Cruz to a four year $57 million contract.  Over those four years Cruz averaged .283/.362/..545 and 41 homers.

July 20, 2016.  Mariners trade LHP Mike Montgomery and RHP Jordan Pries to Chicago Cubs for 1b/DH Daniel Vogelbach and RHP Paul Blackburn. In his three years with the Cubs, Montgomery is a valuable swing man, contributing 175.0 valuable innings, and serving a valuable role on Chicago’s championship team.  Paul Blackburn was traded for the clubhouse cancer Danny Valencia, now on his 27th big league roster.  Vogelbach has 127 plate appearances over his three years of Mariner stewardship, is now out of big league options, and has never really had the opportunity to provide the left-handed offense for 2016 and beyond that Jerry Dipoto promised when he made this trade so long ago.

Mike Montgomery 2

It was the best of times and it was the worst of times. In this season of swaps big and little, and the general purge of the 2018 Seattle Mariners roster, it is Nelson Cruz I will miss most.  Yes I’ll miss the Boombstick’s titanic blasts.  But  Cruz proved was that he was more than a guy who hit occasional home runs around 200 strikeouts that seems to be the popular model in baseball these days. He hit for average, would take his walks, was happy to drive in runs with a single, could hit with two strikes as well as hacking at number three.  Nelson Cruz was an All-Star three of his four years in a Mariner uniform, received MVP votes in those years, and twice was in the top ten in voting. He was the real deal.

Cruz played healthy, he played when he was dinged.  Scott Servais literally was not allowed to write in somebody else’s name in the four spot.   I watched him hit in Minnesota with an injured wrist screaming in pain after a swing and miss, and he still drove a ball out of Target Field. He was tough as nails.  I truly believed he loved Seattle, being a Mariner, being Robby’s teammate.

Word everybody knew was coming today, Nellie signed with the Twins.  And good for him.  He may help a rising Twins team overcome a strapped Indians team trying to hang on to as much of its division-leading pitching as possible.

And Cruz’s signing may, in its own way, be a farewell present to his old team.  As the first of the quality DH only types to hook on with a team, it now opens the door for other teams to look for a DH.  Available, as posted on a big sign outside T-Mobile Park, one Edwin Encarnacion. Maybe the Astros, looking for a replacement for Evan Gattis will kick his very large tires.  Though they are in denial, maybe the Rays will also look under the hood.

Edwin Encarnacion

Sorry Edwin, you just aren’t the guy we need.  It’s not that you’re bad, or that you can’t still jolt ’em out of the ballpark, nothing personal at all.

We just need to revisit that second transaction.  I hated the Montgomery trade.  At  the time of the deal with the Cubs, Montgomery was a useful piece out of the bullpen,  He’d started some games as other Mariner pitchers like Wade Miley and Nate Karns struggled to carry their load.  I have no doubts that Mike Montgomery was not the second coming of Randy Johnson or Sandy Koufax, but could he have gotten the one or two more wins the M’s needed to get into the 2016 playoffs?

Daniel Vogelbach recalled

Vogelbach is my least favorite kind of baseball player.  Round, unathletic, really not capable of playing in the field.  Despite that, the man has lit up AAA with the bat.

2017: .290/.388/.455  17 HRs

2018: .290/.434/.545  20 HRs

That said, in very limited and scattered service with the M’s, Vogelbach has done very little to scream “Vogelbach needs to play!!”  His .197/.301/.315 major league slash over three years and 146 PA doesn’t make an overwhelming argument in his favor.  However, his irregular appearances in Seattle, and even rarer games played hardly gives a player the consistency and confidence to play well.  There was always that Cruz fellow ahead of him on the DH depth chart, and when you have a productive Cruz, why look for help elsewhere?

But 2019 will be different.  Cruz is a Twin.  Encarnacion is a player in chartifiable, decline.  It’s a year the M’s know they aren’t going to compete for much more than pride. It’s time to give those at bats to Vogelbach.  Let’s see if the premise for making the Montgomery trade was based on truth and not fantasy.  Yes, Jay Bruce, if not traded before the season, will have to get at-bats somewhere.  But Vogelbach is 26.  His ticket on the Tacoma Express is expired; he’s out of minor league options.  He’s strictly in use-him-or-lose him territory. It’s time to see what the big lefty can do with 400 PA’s

Cruz’s signing with Minnesota opens the door for an Encarnacion trade to Houston or Tampa, or some other unwitting suitor.  It is his final gift to the Mariners and Daniel Vogelbach.

 

Hall of Fame Voting So Far

Class18

2018 Hall of Fame class.  From Left-Vladimir Gurerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones, Jack Morris, Alan Trammell, and Jim Thome.

It’s December 23rd and one of my favorite times of year. Two weeks off work, badly needed this Christmas season.  Some rest, seeing family and maybe a nice gift or two, I’ve anxiously awaited all of it.

But there’s baseball stuff going on too.  I’m always excited to see what the Mariners do in the off season, and with everything from the naming rights of the ballpark, to a big ugly court case, to the perpetual Construction Zone yellow tape that masks their roster, the team has a lot going on.

This is also prime Hall of Fame voting time.  The baseball writers have cast their votes.  They must be in soon, and that counter of votes, Ryan Thibodaux is posting the results as they become available. Many of the voters make announcements and justifications for their ballots, either on Twitter, or on their publications, so Thibodaux and his minions scoop ’em up and share them on Twitter as soon as they are available.  It’s because of the trust they have for Ryan that sometimes they just share directly with him.

There are 88 votes that have made their way to Thibodaux’s famous Tracker and there are some interesting results so far.  This is a list of all on the ballot over the required 75% for election:

Mariano Rivera:  100% (1st year)

Roy Halladay:  93.2% (1st year)

Edgar Martinez: 92.0% (10th year)

Mike Mussina: 84% (6th year)

Curt Schilling: 76.1% (7th year)

That’s quite a collection.  No surprises, well maybe the solid bloc behind Halladay, but I have no problem with it.  These are the front runners for election, but only about 21.4% of the votes are in, and it’s the final 25% or so that gets pretty conservative, their ballots are shorter and these vote totals are unlikely to stay as they are.  Several prognosticators are making their projections for those who win election.

Ross Carey shows three getting in-Rivera, Doc and Edgar.

Jason Sardell gives Rivera, Halladay, Martinez and Mussina the go sign

The Movers

Some of the players have had quite a good showing so far.  Larry Walker, in his 9th year on the ballot has drawn 14 new voters to reach 64.8%.  Hopefully he can finish with about 70% to prepare a final campaign for induction in 2020.  Likewise Mussina has drawn 11 new voters, but will need more to finish with 75%.  Tragically, but not surprisingly, Fred McGriff tied Walker for most new voters with 14%.  McGriff is in his final year of eligibility and currently sits at 36.4%, not close to induction.  However, if he can raise it just a bit more, the Crime Dog will have a strong case for the Veterans committee in a couple of years. He was a clean, consistent hitter, and deserves induction.

The PED Class

Those suspected of steroid use are divided mostly into two groups.  There is Bonds and Clemens and everyone else. This is currently how they stand:

Roger Clemens: 73.9%

Barry Bonds: 72.7%

Manny Ramirez: 28.4%

Gary Sheffield: 12.5%

Sammy Sosa: 10.2%

Of the five, Sheffield has picked up three votes, Bonds and Clemens added one each, while Manny and Sosa have net lost votes from ballots submitted thus far. There has been little movement for Bonds and Clemens in their 7th year on the ballot, and they are projected to finish about where they were last year, about 60%. Predictions of a gradual easing of a PED “prejudice” hasn’t happened, and the suggestion of a “forgiveness” vote hasn’t appeared.  At least not yet.

Edgar

Everybody who is a Mariners fan knows Edgar Martinez is in his last year of eligibility.  The voting began with Edgar appearing on his first 24 ballots, but fell off a bit from there. He’s hung around at about 90+ ever since.  That’s encouraging.  He’s appeared on ballots even posted by some of the Small Hall crowd.  Edgar has gained a net nine votes from previous Hall voters.  He needs a total of at least 20 new votes, assuming no losses. It seems pretty likely he’ll make it but keep those positive thoughts coming.

Carlos we hardly knew ye

Carlos Santana

Carlos Santana came to Seattle as a hunk of the Jean Segura trade to Philadelphia.  He was the veteran ballplayer hunk that came with young shortstop J.P. Crawford. An all-star first baseman who had a sub-career average year with the Phillies after signing a pretty rich contract.

It was also evident he wouldn’t be a Mariner for long. Limited to first base or DH, and packing two years left on his $17.5 million contract, the handwriting was on the wall the M’s would do their best to trade him before the season began.  Today, with time expiring at the Winter Meetings, they did just that.

Too bad the M’s couldn’t have made this trade last year.  With his career average .247/..363/.442 slash line and 25 homers and 106 walks per year, Santana would be the best first baseman the Mariners have had since Russell Branyan.  How much better would the M’s have been managing first base than Ryon Healy?  Hell, who knows, that ship has sailed.

In fact Carlos has sailed off to Cleveland, from whence he migrated to Philadelphia in 2018.  Of all the “interesting” trades” the M’s have made this season, this tops the list for particularly weird circumstances.

Let’s start with the fact that it’s a three team deal involving the Seattle, Cleveland, and of course, Tampa Bay. The M’s send Santana to Cleveland and they receive 1B-DH Edwin Encarnacion.  They also receive Cleveland’s pick in the Competitive Balance phase of the June draft, number 77 overall.  Not good enough for an elite draft choice, but not chopped liver either. Because this is mostly a trade of over-priced contracts, the M’s also sent the Indians $6 million.

The M’s aren’t as involved in the second leg of the draft as the Indians sent minor league outfielder Yandy Diaz and RHP Cole Pulsipher to the Rays for 1B/OF Jake Bauers.  The Rays also slipped the Mariners $5 million in a manila envelope, unmarked bills to finish things up. No, I don’t understand, go figure.

So the M’s get Encarnacion, a draft pick, and lose a million bucks in a weird transaction.  The big slugger is already rumored to be headed out of town, perhaps to Tampa Bay for a prospect, and doubtless accompanied by a bag of cash. to pay down the $24 million the big guy is owed for 2019.

Strange trade.  It feels a lot like a trade of over priced contracts, as the Mariners do their best to pare down some of the hefty veteran promissory notes that began with Segura and Nicasio, wound through Santana and ends, for the moment, with Encarnacion.  With this deal, the Mariners would save $11 million on the two year deal owed to Santana, veruss the one year deal owed Encarnacion. It’s sort of like when I was a kid, and my mom would serve something I didn’t like for dinner.  If I just moved it around my plate long enough, lo and behold my peas would disappear.  I’m waiting to see how they deal Encarnacion and what they can do to continue shrinking that guaranteed money.

I am, in some ways, sad to see Santana go.  He is a control the zone kind of hitter, with power and plays good defense.  Hopefully, the M’s haven’t outsmarted themselves and don’t end up stuck with Encarnacion.  I really would prefer to see what a year of Vogelbach as a DH, and a year of Healy at 1B looks like.  Can they help us, or not?

In historic last year, Edgar is 24 for 24 so far.

Edgar

Edgar Martinez is in his last year of eligibility for Hall of Fame voting.  Last year, year nine, Edgar finished with 70.4% of the votes on the Baseball writers’ ballots, about twenty votes short of selection. He has received all the public votes tendered so far, including six he didn’t get last year.

As I said, there is a sense of urgency for the Mariners designated hitter with the sweet swing.  If he dosesn’t receive at least 75% of the vote, he’s out and would have to be chosen by one of veteran committees.  No sure thing there.

Competing with Edgar for votes are a couple of likely new nominees and a lot of hangers on.  Closer sans peur Mariano Rivera joins Edgar on the ballot.  You can punch his ticket to Cooperstown now.  Right handed starter Roy Halladay who dominated the big league for a decade, and was tragically killed in a plane crash a couple years ago begins his first year on the ballot.  I don’t know if he’ll make it this year, but it will be interesting to see how close Doc gets to election. Todd Helton, the Rockies first baseman is on this ballot.  He has great numbers, but fights the perception that Coors Field simply inflates statistics.

It’s very early in the public vote.  Those must be in by December 31st and they are trickling in to Ryan Thibodaux’s website.  24 votes counted, that’s about 5.8% of known ballots.  So far Edgar has had a really good series 24 for 24.   Rivera also has 100 percent.  Remaining nominees over 50% are:

Roy Halladay        87.5%

Mike Mussina       79.2%

Roger Clemens      75%

Barry Bonds          70.8 %

Curt Shilling          70.8 %

Larry Walker         58.3 %

Omar Vizquel        54.2 %

I’ve received my IBWAA ballot, and have pretty well marked up what I’m going to do. I haven’t sent it in yet.  I had no trouble choosing my votes.  Some may surprise you, but some not. Remember the internet writers have created a bit of an alternative universe in which Roger Clemens, Edgar Martinez, Barry Bonds and Mike Mussina are already in, and Barry Larkin is still outside pounding on the door. Here are my votes for this year:

Lance Berkman–Berkman was not a good defender, but offensively he was great for a long time. His numbers remind me of-well-Edgar Martinez. I don’t know if Berkman can muster the pr machine to get him over the top, but I don’t want him to drop off the ballot.  Hopefully he hangs in there and conversation can continue.

Roy Halladay-Doc was great on the Blue Jays and the Phillies. He doesn’t have Tom Glavine’s counting numbers, but he was still 203-105, won a couple of Cy Youngs and placed in the top five four other times.  He led the league in innings pitched four times and complete games nine times.  This at a time when those accomplishments were becoming rarer and rarer. He was an iron man.  Threw a no-hitter in the playoffs.  You had me at hello.

Todd Helton-Helton is one of those guys I dismissed as a Coors Field product when I saw his name headed for the ballot.  But after reading Jay Jaffe’s Fan Graphs article, I think Helton deserves my vote if for no other reason than continuing a conversation about his career and how it fits in the context of the Hall of Fame.  We’ve got ten years to figure it out.

Fred McGriff–It took me some time to jump on the Crime Dog Bandwagon, and I’m really sorry for that.  McGriff should be in the Hall.  He’s seven home runs from 500, and a golden ticket to Cooperstown.  He was a clean player in the steroids era.  He missed time due to the 94-95 strike.  He was a consistent hitter and great teammate.  It’s his last year, and the chances slim, but my fingers are crossed.

Mariano Rivera-Mo was the gold standard for pitchers.  Strike out the tough hitters, Rivera did that. Pitch multiple innings, he did that too.  Longevity, Rivera was around a long time, and he leads baseball with career games finished with 952, and career saves with 652.  And he’s a terrific, humble person which does it for me every time.  Look I know there are voters who won’t cast a yes for closers, but this guy is the real deal. And I’m a lifelong Yankee hater.

Scott Rolen-Rolen was a wonderful combination of brilliant defense and good offense who played for the Phillies, Cardinals and Reds. He won eight gold gloves.  He finished with a career slash of .281/.364/.490.  It’s very good, but not quite great. He was tough as nails, played hard, played hurt, and he’s right on the edge. Jay Jaffe says this about Rolen’s candidacy.

Curt Schilling-Curt Schilling and I have a lot in common.  We both have an affinity for board games, and we kind of live for baseball. Okay, I guess the common part ends there.  He’s a loudmouthed conservative buffoon who has taken itchy Twitter-finger lessons from Donald Trump and he has alienated a great deal of the baseball community. But he belongs in the Hall of Fame. My nose is held.  My ballot is marked.

Omar Vizquel-Little O’s candidacy is aided by the fact that he had a great defensive reputation (11 Gold Gloves,) got close to 3,000 hits due to a long career, and played on some pretty good teams.  He began life as a Seattle Mariner, which always goes a long way with me.  But he stuck around a long time because he was a valuable teammate and could make the plays in the field.  Is that good enough to get him in the Hall of Fame?  Well, we’ll see.  He’s got my vote.

Larry Walker-Walker was one of those great players who left the Expos and landed elsewhere-think Tim Raines, Gary Carter, Vladimir Guerrero.  Hey those guys are in the Hall of Fame!.  Unfortunately Walker ended up in Colorado.  One strike.  He also had a ton of injuries and had difficulty staying on the field. Two strikes. Walker was a terrific player who simply lacks the longevity to compile the counting numbers. But he won an MVP in 1997, has seven Gold Gloves.  The voters have rallied to Walker the last couple of years, but he’s in his ninth year on the ballot.  If he can make an Edgarish jump this year, he might have a shot.