Month: February 2014

Orioles to take on Nelson Cruz. Phew.

The Birds of Baltimore look to run the final free agent table.  After they signed pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, Major League Trade Rumor is announcing they are signing outfielder Nelson Cruz.  This comes on the heels of Jack Zdurencik’s announcement yesterday, that while the Mariners are still looking at free agent possibilities, they want to evaluate their own guys.

That’s good and bad news.  It’s good news because it means they won’t be carrying Cruz’s one note repertoire around with them for the next couple of years. Yes Cruz may hit some home runs, but the negatives he offered-strikes out a ton, low OBP, bad defender and clogger of base paths were problems.  According to twitter comments, there was a concern about his PED use and the switch to Safeco Field-usually Death Valley for right-handed power.

Though letting the Orioles, in their somewhat more hitter-friendly park, have Cruz, is a bit of a relief, it doesn’t mean the Mariners are out of the woods. The M’s still have trouble in the outfield.  Right now the names penciled into the competition for those jobs look something like this.

Yesterday Lloyd McClendon announced Dustin Ackley would play left field

He has Corey Hart was in for 145 games as a right fielder

That leaves center field for Michael Saunders.

However, the noises made by McClendon and Mariner management is that these positions are all open to competition.  The M’s have Abraham Almonte, Stephan Romero, and Xavier Nady chasing jobs on the big league club, though none have much major league experience, certainly not enough to show they are ready for the year-long slog that is a major league baseball season. That doesn’t mean all of them can’t do the job, but they haven’t shown that yet.

Ackley and Saunders have struggled at the plate.  Saunders especially has had problems with left handed pitching.  He’s also playing out of position in center.  Ackley didn’t show a lot as an outfielder last year, but hopefully he’s had an opportunity to work out there more during the offseason.  He has his own issues at the plate, that are yet unresolved.  Hart’s health and defense remain a problem.  Even if the M’s go with all three of these guys, depth has to be a concern.

Is this the time to play the Franklin card?



The Doldrums of Spring

It’s not spring here, or in many other parts of the country.  I could kvetch about our Northwest dark, chill and damp, but I’m afraid it’s no competition for the endless winter that’s settled across much of the northern part of the country (and bracing for another Polar vortex.) But it is spring in Peoria, Arizona where the refurbished Mariners are working out in their refurbished facilities, hoping their reconstruction will make them a better team. With the first games of spring a mere week away, there seems scant news to fuss over.

With the Robinson Cano dogs it kerfuffle seemingly over, I’m reminded this is pretty much a media-generated story.  In reading the New York Daily News story that started it all, Kevin Long was pretty complimentary toward Cano, except for the dogging it part.  Blow it up as big as you want, but Cano is known for not running out every ground ball, much like Ken Griffey, Jr. Junior claimed it wasn’t part of his game.  On the positive side, I was pleased to see a bunch of Lloyd McClendon on this story.  This team needs a guy who will hold them accountable, but will also stand up for them in the press.  Lloyd better get used to it.

And if you can’t make a mountain of Robbie’s mole-hill what else is there to spill ink over?  Er, even the electronic kind?  No news on filling more holes for the Mariners.  With the announcement the Red Sox will sign lefty Chris Capuano, that leaves the M’s with a rotation that looks something like this 1. Felix, 2. Scott Baker, 3. Taijuan Walker, 4 and 5 some version of James Paxton and Erasmo Ramirez.  If that leaves you longing for the good old days of Felix, Iwakuma, Joe Saunders and YIKES, consider yourself human.  Ervin Santana’s still out there, but the longer this goes on, the less likely I feel it’s going to happen.  Saunders is still available . . .

The outfield mess is still an outfield mess.  How does a team like the Mariners, with so many high draft picks end up with so few outfield prospects? Gah! We’re sitting on Brad Millers, Ryan Franklins, and Chris Taylors, but we got no Bryce Harpers or Mike Trouts.  What’s that about?  But we do have a Corey Hart.  This week McClendon said he wanted to see Hart in the outfield for 145 games.  He didn’t say if that meant hanging out with fans, in a wheelchair or actually playing right field.  Honestly, if Corey Hart could play regularly in right field, and actually catch the ball sort of, it would be great.  I am not holding my breath.  He was at never a good defender when he was healthy, and with two busted knees, well, who knows. No Nelson Cruz sightings.  Maybe with this latest post from Adam Rubin on ESPN New York the Mets are interested in Nick Franklin, the M’s might glom on to a decent outfielder.  If the Mets have one.  Sigh.

At least this is a better week than the last one.  No more injuries, or Jesus Montero whale sightings.  A giant sink-hole hasn’t swallowed the San Diego Padres clubhouse while a demon from hell devours the Mariners infield practicing bunt plays.

Could be worse.

Calling 911

It’s the second day of training camp and  the M’s reported the signing of Fernando Rodney after passing his physical. Rodney provides some instant oomph to a bullpen that was mostly in disarray last year.  They also added minor league invitees Randy Wolf and Zach Miner to those competing for the remaining bullpen jobs.

We should be cheering and leaping up and down that Spring Training has begun, the M’s have made some interesting moves in the off season, with possibly more to come, but the big stories out of camp involve unexpected injuries this team simply cannot afford as it is currently constructed.

Yesterday we got the news Hisashi Iwakuma is out 4-6 weeks with a sprained tendon in the middle finger of his throwing hand.  He will miss all of his spring training starts and likely won’t be available to pitch for the Mariners until early May. The M’s are already pretty thin in the rotation.  That leaves Felix Hernandez as the only sure member. The other four spots are up for grabs with Scott Baker returning from injury, youngsters Taijuan Walker, James Paxton and Erasmo Ramirez, and not ready for prime time pitchers Brandon Maurer, Hector Noesi, and Blake Beaven in the competition.

In the red-flashing light department, News Tribune writer Bob Dutton tweeted  pitcher Taijuan Walker has reported a sore shoulder to the Mariners brass.

Unless the M’s delve into the ample resources still available on the free agent market, I smell disaster of Titanic proportions.  Imagine the M’s rotation last year-Felix, Kuma, Saunders, Harang, Maurer/Ramirez. If that doesn’t make you shiver, imagine it without Iwakuma.  Nightmare on Edgar Martinez Drive.

Today the happy talk is that with Rodney’s signing the M’s had to make room on the 40 man roster.  The gone man is none other than outfielder Franklin Gutierrez.  Guti has put himself on the restricted list, meaning he won’t be able to play in 2014.  It seems his IBS has once again manifested itself and made it impossible for him to play baseball this year. It could mean Gutierrez’s once-promising career is over.  I’m sure it is disappointing to that young man who has so much talent, and to those of us who loved watching him play.

The effect is a further thinning of what was an already weak outfield. At the present time the Mariners have Michael Saunders, Dustin Ackley, Abraham Almonte, Corey Hart and Logan Morrison available to play outfield.  I’ve already recounted the poverty of the current Mariners’ outfield.  Though it was unlikely he would have been a full time player, Gutierrez offered some outfield depth and another right-handed bat. Though it’s nice to know now  this has happened instead of a month from now, there are few outfielders available without trading a valuable commodity.

To make matters more interesting, the M’s have, apparently put talks with Nelson Cruz on hold, reports Chris Cotillo on the MLB Daily Dish.

Short of pitching, shorter in the outfield, all that’s missing is a plague cart and a funny little man shouting “Bring out your dead!!”

Free Agents Remaining on the Market and some Nick Franklin assessments

Not a whole lot left on the market of value to the Mariners.  Here is what’s out there by position


Kelly Shoppach

The M’s have gone out of their way to acquire some catching depth by re-signing Humberto Quintero and adding John Buck as a quality back-up.  I’m assuming Mike Zunino will start the season in Seattle, but in the event of injury or if Zunino should start the year in Tacoma, the M’s are better fixed than last year’s catching disaster.


Stephen Drew  SS     Kendrys Morales  DH/1B    Alexi Cassilla 2B  Brandon Inge 3B   Casey Kotchman  1B    Munenori Kawasaki  Ut    Justin Turner  SS/3B

Mariners are pretty well set in the infield with the acquisition of Cano, and the signing of Willie Bloomquist as a utility dude.  The fight for at-bats at first base between Justin Smoak, Logan Morrison and Corey Hart should be interesting.


Nelson Cruz RF    Tyler Colvin OF/CF     Juan Pierre  OF

Sadly, Nelson Cruz is better than the outfield they currently have.  Tuesday’s interview with Corey Hart on Shannon Drayer’s Hot Stove League was revelatory.  Though willing to play wherever, Corey Hart sees DH as an opportunity to prolong his career, so I question the amount of time he’ll spend patrolling the green pastures of Safeco Field.

Starting Pitchers (* denotes left-hander.)

Ubaldo Jimenez    A.J. Burnett    Chris Capuano*   Jon Garland    Tommy Hanson    Aaron Harang    Jair Jurrjens    Paul Maholm*   Jason Marquis    Jeff Niemann    Roy Oswalt    Clayton Richard    Ervin Santana          Johan Santana    Jake Westbrook

I haven’t heard any recent noise the M’s will sign another starter, which sounds like they are all in on reclamation project Scott Baker, and youngsters Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, and Erasmo Ramirez.  This is a place the M’s could still make a move, but they may be all in if they sign Cruz. Would love to see Capuano in a Mariners uniform. Lots of bad pitching.  Lots of expensive options.  Lots of broken hurlers.

Relief Pitchers (* denotes left-hander)

Octavio Dotel    Frank Francisco    Mike Gonzalez*    Kevin Gregg    Joel Hanrahan    Jeff Karstens    Brandon Lyon    Ryan Madsen    Christhian Martinez    Zach Miner    Brett Myers    Oliver Perez*    Tony Sipp                  Jose Valverde

With Thursday’s signing of Fernando Rodney, it’s unlikely the M’s spend major bucks to add to the bullpen.  However, if they could bring back Oliver Perez it would strengthen what they have.  Perez is effective against lefties and right-handers, and simply succumbed to over-work last year.

Nick Franklin

Though I pushed for the M’s to deal 2B/SS Nick Franklin for a needed piece for the M’s, ESPN’s Buster Olney suggested there just isn’t much of a market at the moment.  Pointing at his lack of consistent production at the major league level last year, and his high strikeout rate, rival front office types suggested the M’s keep him in the PCL, and give him a chance to demonstrate his domination of that league.  He’d be more likely to garner more useful trading partners near the trade deadline.  You can read the article here, but you must be an insider.


The Seahawks victory and what it could mean for the Mariners season

The whole world now knows the Seahawks crushed the Broncos in the Super Bowl with all the delicacy of a meat tenderizer.  The team earned its championship with superb play, great leadership and tenacity and is receiving its just recognition from the national press.

While the team basks in its brief celebration before heading off to take a well-earned break, the city and its environs is ready to explode with enthusiasm and pride that at last Seattle has a champion for the first time since 1979.  Who knows how many will attend the parade on Wednesday, but the downtown Seattle is likely to be packed with the 12th Man, both the hard core long time supporters, and the newly won fans who will now have an attachment to this team for the rest of their lives.

Seattle is now a city that tasted winning.  It’s always been a sports town despite the lack of winning.  And there has been winning, if not championships.  The Sonics had several long stretches of winning, including an appearance in the NBA finals against Michael Jordan’s Bulls. The Seahawks made many appearances in the playoffs before winning it all on Sunday.  The M’s have had fewer playoff appearances, but made it to the ALCS three times, tied the all-time record in wins, and drew 3.5 million fans in 2002.  Seattle loves a winner.

That’s why it’s so important the M’s do what needs to be done and pick up a couple more pieces for this team.  At the very least it needs one more guy for the rotation, and at least one more proven bullpen arm.  An outfielder, a good one would be nice too.  Pay the money, make the trades.  Fans, looking for sports excitement will come out to Mariners games if it looks like this team can compete, but will stay away in droves it it goes 10-17 by the end of April. This is a year when the M’s might be something special.  Robinson Cano was a bigger signing and will have a bigger impact on the M’s than even a healthy Percy Harvin will have on the Seahawks.  There are some appealing young players on this team with Kyle Seager and Brad Miller, as well as young pitching in Taijuan Walker and James Paxton. There are things to get excited about.

I don’t think the M’s can win it all, but they should be better, they could compete, if holes can be filled. They could be the Seahawks of 2010-2011, good enough to interest fans, good enough to put a scare into opponents, but only if they get eliminate the big trap doors this team has seemed to to stand on top of  every year since at least 2009, and blithely pulled every April.  Count the ways-Joe Saunders, Michael Morse, Jack Cust, Milton Bradley, Chone Figgins.  But this team still has no legitimate center fielder.  It has an exploding relief corps, and they need more depth in the starting rotation. Answer these problems and I can begin to nod.  The team has possibilities.  All offer likely Wile E. Coyote episodes if the problems aren’t answered.

Seize this moment.  There is fan momentum for sports in this city.  Seahawks fans will be looking for someone to get behind; should it be the Mariners or the Sounders?  The latter had their own problems last year.  The M’s should seize the moment and put the finishing touches on this team.

The Trifecta: Walter Jones, the Superbowl, and David Stern

Yesterday was a historic day for Seattle sports, with their thrashing of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, 43-8.  It was a tremendous game I’d like to examine the meaning of in a subsequent post. Nope, this is a short celebratory post before I run off to school

First, congratulations to Walter Jones for his election to the Football Hall of Fame.  Jones was a left tackle sans peur for the Seahawks 1997-2009.  He was simply the best player at his position during the time he played.  Nine holding penalties in his career, and what, 22 sacks allowed in his career.  Are you kidding? Jones is highly deserving of this honor.

The Super Bowl is the most popular event in American sports, and the Seahawks did themselves proud.  There are lots of issues to explore more deeply about what it all means, and whether there might be some spillover benefits to the other Seattle sports.  But today, bask in the warmth of knowing you live in a championship town, with loyal championship fans.  Fly your 12th Man flags, buy your championship garb, take your championship hangovers and stuff ’em in the rest of the country’s loser faces and scream GO SEAHAWKS!!

Wow, that was hard on a Monday morning.

Finally, goodbye David Stern.  He retires today after decades of presiding over the the NBA like a Balkan monarch.  King of Whocareswhat and taken almost as seriously as Vince McMahon of the WWE.  Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.


Go Seahawks and why baseball is still better than football.

It’s Superbowl Sunday and any self-respecting, sports-loving Northwesterner should be rooting for the Seahawks when the game kicks off in a few hours.    As with all sports, I’m basically a homer, but I try to be a knowledgeable homer.  I’ve astonished myself by learning about one and two gap defenses, zone three pass coverages, and the meanings of “Omaha.”  I’m going off to a party with friends today, something I never do, but when your home town team is in the world’s championship of American football, that’s what I should do.  So I’m hoping for big days from Marshawn Lynch and the O’line to take pressure off Russell Wilson.  I’m hoping from big games from the defensive front and the Legion of Boom, with Richard Sherman picking off a Peyton Manning pass and running it back for a score.

Now that I’ve made my feelings clear, the Super Bowl weeks just make me nauseous and demonstrates why football is a game for the masses. Case in point, media week.  Because football is only played on the weekends, there is gobs of time between games, and for the SB weeks its gobs X 2.  The teams go to the hosting cities and subject themselves to interrogation by whatever media outlet shows up with credentials and asks whatever ridiculous questions they wish.  Often there is some sort of controversy that erupts during the process and that becomes the chief distraction for the media to harp on throughout the week.

This week the focus of the media’s eye wasn’t on how the Seahawks force Peyton Manning to move out of his comfort zone, or how the Denver Broncos will stop the Seahawks’ rushing game, it was on Marshawn Lynch and his performance at . . . wait for it . . . media day.  Lynch stayed for as short a time as he could get away with, said as little as possible as politely as he could, and made himself scarce as quickly as possible.  Or be fined by the NFL up to $100,000.

Meanwhile, the media paid little attention to Richard Sherman.  He made clear that he loves talking to the press, fully enjoyed media day, and managed to avoid saying anything disparaging about Colin Kapernick or Michael Crabtree. Or Peyton Manning, the Broncos receivers, Jim Harbaugh or President Obama.  No story there despite the fact that Sherman spoke from beginning to end of all three days.

See there isn’t really any media story about this football game.  It’s two very good, very different football teams walking out at 3:30 to play what should be a great game.  Yet, ever mindful of its public image, the NFL imposes ridiculous rules intended to protect the sensibilities of its television audience while they anticipate-before actually watching-what is essentially a blood sport.    If you doubt that, just check out the injury to 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman during the NFC championship game.

Think of all the other stupid rules the NFL has in place to prevent on-field activities by player from seeming “inappropriate” to the viewing masses.  No “taunting,” no “celebrations.” These are things that should be taken care of on the field.  Celebrations on the field in baseball get you a high hard one.  Believe me, Kam Chancellor is quite capable of taking care of excessive celebrations.

One of the sport’s problems is that it is possessed by its obligation to television.  Understandable when the game is primarily a game for television, and the networks pay the league a great deal of money for the privilege, the NFL will defer to its sugar daddy’s interest.  But it often seems as though football, the professional game and increasingly the college game, have prostituted themselves for the big money.

Though baseball is not immune to this charge, it has the advantage of playing every day.  There isn’t the time between games to embark on this endless speculation about little of importance, essentially suffocating the on-line and print media with non-story stories.  It’s ridiculous that this most important game of the year is subsumed in media-made distractions.  Get rid of the second week between conference championships and the Super Bowl, and end the media circus.  It serves the media, and it serves Roger Goodell, but does nothing for the players or the fans..

Why Nelson Cruz and the State of Mariners Outfield Defense Matter

Posts from Jim Bowden on Twitter and Buster Olney link Seattle to signing Nelson Cruz, probably some time this week.  No need to lose this in the celebration of the week’s Super Bowl hype, but according to them the M’s will add Cruz to the melange of outfielders the M’s have accumulated during the offseason.

Of all the positions the M’s tinkered with the past couple of years, their vision of who should play the outfield at Safeco Field, a pitchers park that suppresses power, astounds me.  I’m a great believer that an outfielder’s number one responsibility in the game is to reduce the number of hits his pitchers give up. A good outfield makes your pitching staff better. A bad outfield makes mediocre or poor pitchers even worse. Yet in 2013, and apparently in 2014, the M’s opted for outfielders who range from questionable to bad defenders. They’re too old, too injured, are playing out of position, or are inexperienced.

Try to remember when the Mariners were good; I know that’s hard.  Say 2000-2003, they depended on at least one very good outfielder, center fielder Mike Cameron, combined with at least league average defenders in the corners.  In 2000 those were Rickey Henderson (!) and Jay Buhner.  Though they were both nearing the ends of their careers, they were close to league average for range. (No UZR for 2000.)  The M’s went on to win 91 games, and their division, before losing to the eventual world champion Yankees in the ALCS.

In 2001, the M’s got a huge upgrade with the addition of Ichiro in right field and filled in with an assortment of pieces in left.  The M’s won 116 games.  The pitching staff was quite good, led the league in WHIP, top 5 in BB/9, HR/9, but were middle of the pack in K/9. Importantly, they led the league in defense, in traditional statistics like fielding percentage and more advanced stats like Rtot/yr.

In the M’s last year of greatness, 2003, the M’s had a very good outfield. This was the year after Lou Piniella left for Tampa, and they’d received outfielder Randy Winn in compensation.

LF Randy Winn 3.6 UZR     CF Mike Cameron  19.2 UZR     RF Inchiro Suzuki  21.1 UZR

That team won 93 games with a pitching staff that could hardly be considered household names. 2003 is our first year for Ultimate Zone Rating statistics, so we can have a clearer idea of the quality of each of these outfielders. Previous years we can only make comparisons based on what the rest of the league did. In UZR, positive numbers represents run saved, negative numbers represent runs lost.  A 0.0 rating is league average. The pitching staff included Jamie Moyer, who went on to win 21 games, but also had good years from such household names as Ryan Franklin and Joel Piniero.  As a team the M’s again led the league in WHIP, but gave up more home runs.  Notably, this team was first or second in defensive statistics including Rtot and Rdrs

The last year the M’s finished above .500, 2009, when they surprised the world by winning 85 games.  They mostly did it with pitching and great defense. The outfield, with centerfielder Franklin Gutierrez having arguably one of the greatest defensive years in history, was very good.  It was the year Felix Hernandez won his Cy Young Award. But the rest of the pitching staff was pretty forgettable. Lots of injuries and Jarrod Washburn traded midseason to Detroit forced the team to cobble together a staff.

Even so the outfield defense, saved a ton of runs and kept fly ball pitchers like Washburn and Jason Vargas respectable. Left field became a bit of a black hole after shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt ran over Endy Chavez early in the season, but the guys who replaced him could at least catch the ball and didn’t hurt the team.

LF Endy Chavez 4.3 UZR;  LF Bill Hall 1.5 UZR;  LF Wladimir Balantien 7.0; UZR  CF Franklin Gutierrez 31 UZR; RF Ichiro Suzuki  9.1 UZR

These are what good outfield defenses look like.  Unfortunately the past two years the M’s have changed their philosophy.  After several years of historically bad offense, Jack Zdurencik sought some help wherever he could get it to aid his struggling youngsters.  In doing so he brought in a crop of aging veterans and bad defenders to pump up the M’s runs scored. Mostly they played in the outfield.  Zdurencik also counted on Gutierrez to once again roam center field, recovered from his host of injuries and illnesses, but he never made it out of Spring Training, forcing Michael Saunders to play center.  Saunders is a plus corner outfielder but isn’t suited for center. The outfield was decimated by injury forcing guys to play out of position or with much greater frequency than they should have.  This is the result, a historically terrible outfield.

LF Raul Ibanez -16.7 UZR; LF Jason Bay -4.7; CF Michael Saunders -9.6 UZR; CF Endy Chavez -4.6 UZR; RF Michael Morse -11.9 UZR; OF Dustin Ackley -7.0 UZR

This year Zdurencik has assembled a similar motley crew of outfielders. Michael Saunders is likely the only true starting outfielder in the bunch.  The rest is a cobbled together assemblage of players who are either broken, bad, out of position or trying to learn the position.  Corey Hart is coming off knee surgeries, and according to a January 27 interview with Bob Dutton, is not yet sufficiently recovered to begin practice in the field.  Logan Morrison, likewise coming off knee surgery also has poor defensive ratings in the outfield.  Dustin Ackley, likely in the mix for an outfield spot since Robinson Cano is a lock at second base, looked lost in centerfield last year, but will likely be in the melange for something out there. The UZR ratings are simply ratings for games played in their most recent season.  Rating players over 150 games look much worse.

LF Corey Hart (2012)-0.4; Dustin Ackley .7.0 UZR, CF Michael Saunders -9.6 UZR (RF 5.4 UZR); OF Logan Morrison (2012) -6.9 UZR, OF Franklin Gutierrez -2.4 UZR; RF Nelson Cruz -4.3 UZR

There are lots of criticisms of Nelson Cruz in the blogosphere.  All are pretty legit.  Is he really much of a hitter; will he provide the right-handed upgrade the M’s need? Will he cost too much? How many years? How much power will he provide in spacious Safeco’s notoriously cool, damp air?  And how much of that power was previously PED amplified?  What is clear is that Cruz is a below average outfielder joining a crowded, bad outfield in a big ballpark.

What is equally clear is that with Hart probably not ready to go, the M’s need an outfielder.  He’s certainly not the kind of outfielder I’d choose.  I want guys who can get to balls hit in their general direction.  The thump is much less important to me. Lots of teams, including the 2010 and 2012 world champion San Francisco Giants, have gotten by on lots of defense and less thump.

It isn’t clear who all the members of the Mariners rotation will be, but you can write in Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma in indelible marker, and it will probably include a couple of rookies who need the confidence that catchable balls will be caught, and not drop in for singles or go for doubles.  Zdurencik isn’t doing these guys or their mates any favors by adding one more range-limited player to the outfield pastures. Outfield is an incredibly important defensive position requiring speed, reflexes and athletic ability.  It is not a place for an assemblage of sore legs, mediocre arms and bats one puts together in the hope it will improve the team.  That’s fantasy baseball, not the major league game.   You can’t win that way.