Month: November 2013

Is Jacoby Ellsbury the right place to dump $150 million?

There is little question Jacoby Ellsbury is among the premier free agents this year.  The Mariners desperately need a center fielder, and Ellsbury is one of the very best in the game. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports tweeted the Mariners will sign Ellsbury to a contract costing $21 million per year for six or seven years. Tim Dierkes at MLB Trade Rumors recently projected Ellsbury at seven years $150 million.

The lure of attracting Ellsbury to Seattle is huge and it is understandable. The M’s have been on the outside looking in on both of the last two seasons’ big name free agent signings in Prince Fielder and Josh Hamilton.  The team’s performance was poor.  The Mariners don’t look to get better without an infusion of talent.  This team is below league average in starting pitching, defense, and offense.

Not only that, but this team is ridiculously boring.  There is nothing to talk about really.  Yes Felix is great, Iwakuma is steady and Seager is reliable, but there’s nobody on this team that excites the crowd, adds personality to the team and gives us something to love in spite of its inherent suckage.

Ellsbury fills a big need on this team.  He is arguably among the best centerfielders in the game, and has been a key contributer to the Red Sox success.  He is a superb defender, which the Mariners desperately need, and is a prototypical lead off hitter, with good, not great on-base numbers and he stole 52 bases to lead the American League. Though he had a monster 2011 season with 32 home runs and a .928 OPS, it seems unlikely he will repeat those numbers.

Last season’s numbers are impressive.  He is ranked sixth in MLB defensively, with a UZR of 10.  According to the Dewan Zone Rating System, Ellsbury made 84 plays OOZ, or out of zone, demonstrating great range. Just as a basis for comparison, Michael Saunders and Dustin Ackley are the Mariners center fielders  with at least 200 inning at the position.  They are ranked 46 and 52 at the position of 55 eligible, with major negative ratings.  As a hitter, he is ranked fourth among center fielders, behind Mike Trout, Andrew McCutcheon, and Carlos Gomez, worth 5.8 WAR. His 48 extra base hits would rank fourth on the team behind Kendrys Morales (57,) Kyle Seager (56,) and Raul Ibanez (49.) Nobody is close to challenging his stolen base totals.  He would lead the team in batting average and OBP.  In every way Ellsbury would be an offensive leader on the M’s.

So here’s the question.  Is Ellsbury worth those dollars? I’m not saying he isn’t, but the question has to be asked.  At $21 million, or more, he will be the highest paid Mariner this side of Felix.  He would be a fine defender and a top of the order hitter.  His contract would take him to age 36 or 37, at the same time we were beginning to take a more critical look at the really big contract of Ichiro Suzuki.  Let’s be clear, these guys are not exactly alike.  Ichiro was a corner outfielder who was a lousy centerfielder. Even so, he was winning Gold Gloves until his age 37 season in 2010. By this time criticism was leveled at number 51 complaining about his selfishness, but mostly because he was highest paid player on the team.  However, his numbers hardly indicated he could lead the team.  He was not a run producer.  Because he was the leadoff guy and his mates weren’t hitting behind him, he wasn’t even a particularly prolific run scorer.  While Ichiro could transform the 2001 116 game winning team with it’s lineup of thumpers like Edgar Martinez and Brett Boone, he was just a dollar sucker on the 2010 101 game losers.  With a team not known for an efficient offense, is this right place for this team to put a big ol’ chunk of its free agent dough?  No diss intended to Ellsbury–somebody will want him, and doubtless he’ll be a big help to some team.

Welcome Lloyd McClendon: be prepared to duck

The Mariners are hiring Lloyd McClendon to be the manager of your Seattle Mariners.  I wish McClendon the best, I really do.  He was manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2001-05.  The Pirates were terrible, they were doomed to be terrible.  There was nothing McClendon could do about, they were going to suck. After his firing, McClendon went to the Detroit Tigers as hitting coach.  The Tigers do not suck, making it to the ALCS the last three years, and the World Series in 2012. Unfortunately, his time in Seattle is more likely to look like 2001-2005 than the last three in Detroit.

The hiring has brought a collective sigh from much of the blogosphere.  Lookout Landing and USS Mariner are both lamenting the hiring.  Jeff Sullivan went so far as to point out the hiring of six managers with no previous major league managerial experience, and that McClendon’s hiring was disappointing and uninteresting.  Comments to both the LL column by Scott Weber and the Sullivan post showed little enthusiasm for the hire.

My response is likewise nonplussed.  I don’t buy the whole McClendon is just another failed retread argument.  The guy did the best he could in an impossible situation in Pittsburgh.  John McGraw couldn’t have won in Pittsburgh.  He was fiery and inspired his players.  Are we saying we can’t use a fiery inspiring field leader at Safeco Field?  C’mon.  Lou Piniella is going to be the next entry into the Mariner Hall of Fame.  If McClendon could channel a bit of St. Lou, wouldn’t that be just a bit inspiring and interesting?  Jim Leyland explained that McClendon was key to the Tigers’ success.  Hasn’t the guy earned another shot?

My lack of enthusiasm isn’t because of McClendon’s perceived failure.  I just don’t think he can do a damn thing for this team.  Unless the front office opens its wallet, and Jack Zdurencik spends the cash wisely, I don’t believe Lloyd McClendon, or Joe Girardi, or Tony LaRussa, or GOD HIMSELF can make this a .500 team, let alone compete for a playoff spot. This is complicated by the perception of this team in the baseball world.  The Mariners are seen as badly run, and not dedicated to winning.  They may have a few interesting bits, but as teams go, it’s as poorly run as any team this side of Jeffrey Loria. Why would Jacoby Ellsbury consider leaving the world champion Red Sox, even for two truckloads of money, to come to the baseball hellhole of the West Coast?  Trading is also a possible way to get talent, but this organization is talent-thin (!?!) and risks blowing more holes in what they have by trading for what they don’t got. And what was the last good trade the Mariners made?  2009?

And I would repeat again-what the fuck is the plan?  How much input will McClendon have into the plan, and will the plan in December 2013 be same as the plan in July of 2014?  If the plan changes will Howie, Chuckie and Jackie let Lloyd in on it?

Perhaps the biggest task McClendon faces is changing the perception of this team.  Not just in the baseball world, but here in the Pacific Northwest.  How does he get someone like me–angry, cynical, alienated, but at core ever hopeful, unable to abandon the home town team I love for another–to care about this team on a nightly basis for 162 games.  All the umpire baiting, base thefts, and promises to play the game the right way won’t make this team a winner, only the talent can do that.

Surveying the wasteland and charting a course for 2014

It’s been a long time since my last post.  The Mariners turned in an apocalyptically bad second half of the season, so poor that I simply lost hope and lost heart.  I finished the schedule with a fire ’em all attitude.  Not like me, really. I’m an eternal optimist, a glass half full kind of guy.  I’ve always been able to find some kind of silver lining in a Mariners season.

Not this year.  In every phase of the game, from the starting rotation, to the bullpen, on offense and defense, the Mariners simply weren’t very good.  With the exception of Hisashi Iwakuma, there really wasn’t a player I can point at and suggest that this guy took a big step forward. The roster Jack Zdurencik constructed this year was so flawed, it is my belief he should have been fired at the end of the season.  Eric Wedge probably should have been fired too, but he made it easy by catching the first bus out of town.

If you check my comments from the beginning of the season, I voiced concerns about depending on a healthy Franklin Gutierrez in center field, and relying on two youngsters to make do in the starting rotation.  I was right, only it was even worse than i feared.  Gutierrez didn’t make it out of spring training, leaving the team without a serviceable center fielder.  Michael Saunders and Michael Morse were both injured early in the year, which left the M’s to make do with the agerific Jason Bay, Raul Ibanez and  Endy Chavez.  Outfield defense was ghastly as Saunders spent much of the year filling in at center, not the position he is best suited for.  The M’s off-season decision to pursue sock rather than a workable outfield left them in dire straits with balls not caught and bonus runs allowed.

I also suggested the team would go as far its rotation took it.  While I questioned whether Hiroshi Iwakuma could hang in for the entire season, he ended up being the star of the show. with his 219.2 innings pitched, his 14-6 record and his 1.006 WHIP.  Felix Hernandez, after inking a lucrative contract extension performed well for four and half months of the season and limped through the remainder for the second year in a row.  The rest of the staff could have been replaced by an ambidextrous  octopus named Willy and been far more entertaining.  Joe Saunders, a major off-season acquisition to replace the traded Jason Vargas was anything but an adequate fill in No.3.  The combination of kiddie corps and has beens run out at four and five were generally hopeless.

I did not foresee the great bonfire nightly sprouting from the Mariner bullpen, but bullpens do often morph quickly from very good to the level of Ray Bradbury’s “firemen.” This year was the Mariners’ turn to watch Tom Wilhelmson and company spark a blaze wherever they went. People can talk up Yoervis Medina and Danny Farquhar as much as they want, but I am not convinced.

Offensively there was some improvement, but not in a knock your socks off fashion.  They were second in home runs, seventh in walks, and eighth in runs scored, but bad at almost everything else, especially batting average where they were dead last in the American League.  Some of it was injuries, some of it was kids, but most of the problem was they just weren’t fucking good enough.

At the end of the day I look at this team, I look at the plan to develop the kids, I look at the players who are here and those who are likely to play regularly next year and all I can do is shriek “Where the fuck are we???!!?  This team has money.  It must spend it, and wisely to supplement

We are year six of Zdurencik’s rebuild and this is what I see:

This team desperately needs an outfield.  Bring back Michael Saunders as a corner outfielder and Abraham Almonte as a number four guy.  I like both these players, but Saunders should not be exposed as a center fielder, and though Almonte could be a regular guy after a season playing in the bigs, he isn’t ready now.  The Mariners must bring in a real, live center fielder.  Empty a dump truck of cash at the door of Jacoby Ellsbury, swap for Peter Bourjos, I don’t care but make it a legit guy who can play the position.  No half measures.  I like Shin Soo Choo, but he is not a center fielder, he’s a corner guy.  Not Curtis Granderson, he used to be a center fielder.  However the quest for a center fielder does not preclude bringing in another outfielder–we need one more not named Raul Ibanez.  I have the utmost respect for Ibanez, I truly do.  He’s a good guy who had a decent year, but he doesn’t play in my outfield, except as a number five guy. We must have another corner outfielder.

Somebody needs to step up on the infield.  I have no problem with Kyle Seager at third, despite his season ending slump.  But the situation at second and shortstop needs to be sorted out.  Note that I did not include Dustin Ackley in the outfield, particularly not at center.  If Dustin Ackley is our centerfielder on opening day, I swear I will give up the Mariners forever, sort of, maybe, or perhaps just as natural disaster coverage rather than sport. No, Dustin Ackley belongs at second base, where he is a fine defender.  If he can also be a productive hitter, that’s where he belongs. I am a Brad Miller fan, despite his defensive limitations.  He brings speed and a productive bat to shortstop.  I also believe many of his defensive issues can be resolved with experience and maturity (but what do I know.) My faith in Justin Smoak is diminished but considering the other problems the M’s have, I don’t go shopping for a first baseman.  Nick Franklin’s situation is tenuous in my book.  He truly looked lost after July, and it’s hard to know whether he is a washout or just needs more seasoning.  I’m opting for Tacoma.

Kendrys Morales, Seager and Ibanez were the only consistent producers for the Mariners last year.  Seager will be back, but the M’s must make an effort to re-sign Morales.  Morales led the team in average, extra base hits and rbi’s and will be better with a stronger lineup.  Ibanez maybe, but I’m unsure of his role.  Raul shouldn’t be relied upon for any defensive position, and I doubt his bat will be very effective if he sits much.  Probably time to part the ways unless he comes back as a DH.

The rotation is a situation that begs for real leadership.  The temptation is going to be to make do with the King, Iwakuma and three youngters.  Dumb, disaster, I can smell doom 162 games away.  This team needs not one, but two more trusted veteran starters.  No reclamation products.  No veterans coming off of bad years hoping to catch lightning in a bottle.  Somebody good. Jason Vargas is available.  Maybe Vargas and a right handed version of Jason Vargas.  That leaves one slot left for Taijuan Walker, James Paxton and Brandon Maurer to fight over.  It gives the M’s some depth in case of injury, or somebody to promote at the trade deadline.  Let these kids earn their way on to the rotation and don’t stick them somewhere they don’t belong. Believe me, I have faith in these guys, and they need to repay that with performance, not some kind of pitching welfare.

Last, but not least, the M’s need to repair their bullpen.  Carter Capps, Carson Smith, Stephen Pryor may all help the Farquhar/Medina regime, but they need some proven veterans to bolster that staff.

If was an M’s decision maker for next year these are my priorities:

1.  Legit center fielder–Ellsbury is fine, but somebody who belongs there.

2.  Two additions to the pitching rotation at 3 and 4, with honest competition between the kids for number five. (Oh and I might consider extending Iwakuma.)

3. Corner outfielder that can get on base, with some power.

4. Re-sign Kendrys Morales

5.  Rebuild the bullpen