If you didn’t have a chance to catch new General Manager Jerry DiPoto’s introduction to the local press I encourage you to take a look. Unfortunately it’s less than three minutes of his talk.
This follows last night’s two-hour meeting with Manager Lloyd McLendon.
What struck me, first of all, is his honesty. He is clear that he will make mistakes beginning today. Jack Zdurencik never admitted to a mistake–ever. He also explained that while he liked Lloyd McClendon personally, he likened their pairing to a long distance relationship, one that is yet to develop into one that can work long-term.
Most of all I liked things that didn’t appear in video, but rather in Greg Johns’ story.
He likes the Mariners core of Felix Hernandez, Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, and Kyle Seager
It’s important the team have plan A, but it needs a plan B for contingencies in case of serious injury or if a key player under performs the plan.
The Mariners must construct a roster that can succeed at Safeco Field
To that end, the team needs to acquire and develop players that are more athletic.
The bullpen needs an immediate rebuild.
Needless to say, these are all music to my ears. In the coming months DiPoto and his team will make decisions that are likely to make waves. But from a fan’s perspective, a fan who is willing to put his views out for the two or three people who read these musings, it was nice to think the Mariners GM shares many of my same views on what it will take to make the M’s better from a big picture. It will be interesting to see how he gets it done.
Amid a five game losing skid at the tail end of a season full of disappointment, significant news about the Mariners for the rest of 2015 is likely to occur off the field. I suppose it’s possible James Jones will hit for the cycle, or Vidal Nuno will toss a no-no, but at this point we are watching the last twitching of the 2015 Mariners cadaver.
But I am buoyed with the news today that former Angels GM Jerry DiPoto was hired to fill the vacant GM job. I’ll go into my reasons for optimism about DiPoto shortly, but I really do think Mariners management, particularly baseball operations chief Kevin Mather. are due for some recognition. When he fired former GM Jack Zdurencik, Mather shared his preference for an experienced GM, and he got one. But he did it without resorting to aging retreads like Kevin Towers, Dan O’ Dowd or Larry Beinfest.
Mather also made it clear he wanted to hire a manager who had a variety of skills, knew what he didn’t know, and was comfortable having people around him who could help. Mather’s statement today indicates that DiPoto seems to fit that bill.
During our conversations over the past few weeks, it became clear to me that he has a very solid understanding of our team and organization, both where we are and where we want to be. And he has a strategy to get us there. Few candidates bring the combination of playing the game, scouting, a solid understanding of statistical metrics and a plan for player development.
Mather also made good on his promise to make an early decision. I was surprised a decision was made with six games left to play in the regular season. But the early hire allows DiPoto the opportunity to have his staff together prior to the beginning of the off-season, ready to go with a plan when the free-agent period begins. By contrast Jack Zdurencik wasn’t hired until October 22, 2009.
Will DiPoto succeed where Bill Bavasi and Zdurencik failed? Only time will tell. But one can point to players drafted and developed under DiPoto’s leadership from 2011-2015 and draw some conclusions. They include:
Kole Calhoun age 27. Joined Angels in 2012
C.J. age 25. Joined Angels in 2014
Mike Trout age 23. Joined Angels in 2011
Garrett Richards age 27. Joined Angels in 2011
Dipoto has drafted and developed players and he’s made a passel of trades. Pedro Moura graded his moves for the Orange County Register after his July resignation. Check them out and see what you think. Some hits and some misses. But there is also little doubt in my mind that he was doomed in his job. Angels owner Arte Moreno is a meddler and forced the signings of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton on the Angels GM. Hamilton was a disaster, and the Pujols contract will be, sooner rather than later. When manager Mike Sciosia refused to use on-field analytics in his game planning, he received the support of the owner, leaving DiPoto to do little more than say “Later . . .” and head out the door.
My view is that DiPoto is a great middling choice. He’s see both sides of the ball-as a player, a scout, and an executive. He embraces analytics but will also employ traditional scouting methods. He’s not all one thing or another. He’s been around longer than highly though of Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler, but isn’t one the persistently recycled MLB old guard. Does that mean he’ll win immediately? No. Does that mean he’ll please the fan base with his decisions? No.
And just one more point. Be ready for more changes. There will be moves made in the front office and on the field from Safeco Field to Everett Memorial Stadium. It is unusual for a new GM to keep the old field manger around. While views of Lloyd McClendon’s acumen are mixed at best, it’s unlikely he survives this new hiring. Given his relationship with Sciosia, I can’t imagine DiPoto won’t insist on his own guy loyal to him. Another casualty, a little closer to home, however, is likely to be Edgar Martinez. By all accounts Edgar has helped players like Robinson Canoe and Mark Trumbo turn their seasons around. However, a new field manager is likely to insist on their own choice for a hitting coach . A new guy, wanting collaborators he knows and trusts, is likely to pass on the greatest hitter in Mariner history. It’s just business. But that’s the price for failure.
I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s press conference.
As the M’s chances of a respectable finish to the 2015 season begin slip, sliding away, it’s time to look at what they might think about for next season. When my team is out of it, why not offer some prescriptions and see if my medicine as the same the new GM will offer.
Let’s start with the outfield, but it offers the most complex challenges. The Mariners currently have an outfield that looks something like this: Seth Smith against right handed pitching in LF or RF, Franklin Gutierrez in LF playing fairly regularly, Mark Trumbo is getting at bats in a corner outfield position, Nelson Cruz in RF, but not at the present time due his quad injury. Brad Miller and Shawn O’Malley are sharing time in center field. That’s a lot of guys sharing three spots, but to be expected this time of year because of the increased roster size and the team wants to get a look at who might help them in the future. Here is my view:
End the Cruz era in right field
One of the wise things Jack Zdurencik did in 2015 finale was identify and sign the best right handed hitter available in Nelson Cruz. And Cruz has paid off. While not perfect, the man is still a strikeout machine, he has some of the best offensive numbers in the league, and exceeded my wildest expectations, and just as importantly, the complaints of critics of his signing. But he was signed to be the DH. Yet within a week of the regular season’s start he was the Mariners starting right fielder. For all of his offensive accomplishments, Nelson Cruz is not a good right fielder, and this is historical not just in 2015. In his time with the Brewers and Rangers from 2005-2010, his defensive numbers, as they appear on FanGraphs were above average. From 2011-2015 they are below average, with the exception of 2014 when he played in somewhat smaller Camden Yards. His UZR/150 for 2015 are a career worst -11.8. That’s nearly an additional 12 runs per season allowed above an average right fielder. There is a tradeoff to consider. According to his season splits, Cruz definitely was a better hitter as a right fielder. He played 80 games in the outfield and his slash is .337/.402/.670, while in his 65 games as a DH he was .272/.348/.468. However, Nelson Cruz is also 35 years old. His performance as an outfielder is likely to continue its decline. Another consideration in this, is he has been remarkably injury free with the exception of his quad condition late in the season. That has not always been his history. I’m not saying this is an easy choice to make, but I believe if Cruz can find more comfort as a DH it will help the team.
Adopt a run prevention model for the outfield.
Of all the guys I mentioned who are coming back to the outfield, the only sure bet is Seth Smith. He has a contract through next year with a team option. There are no other players, whose primary position is outfield. This allows the new GM to be as creative as he can afford to be. It makes sense to bring back Franklin Gutierrez to share time with Smith and fill in at the other corner. But that still leaves the team without a center fielder and they’ll need at least one more outfielder. In my world I would look for the best defensive outfielders I can find. The bulk of the Mariners thump is on the infield-Seager, Cano, Marte (in his own way,) Trumbo/Morrison, Cruz at DH. The Mariners don’t have to have big, slow slugging outfielders. In fact they should be looking in the opposite direction. The outfielder needs a total makeover, composed of athletic talented defenders who can also get on base for the sluggers who follow them, and support the pitching staff with their gloves. This is more likely to be a winning combination for playing half a season at Safeco Field. Here are some free agent players available who may fit the bill:
Denard Span (32)– .301/.362/.431 wRC+ 120. Span was injured most of this year and had a poor year defensively with a -10.3 UZR/150. At 32, his age may be working against him.
Dexter Fowler (30)– .249/.345/.418 wRC+ 110. Fowler has never been a great fielder, but was average with the Cubs this year. Low batting average, strikes out a ton, but also has some speed, some power, and takes his walks.
Colby Rasmus (29)-.232/.302/.430 wRC+ 99. Rasmus has the virtue of being able to play all three outfield positions pretty well, though his best is center field. He’s had trouble sticking with one team due to an inconsistent bat. But with his combination of defense, thump and affordability he could be intriguing
Jason Heyward (26)– .288/.353/.423 wRC+ 116. Heyward is likely to be the most spendy player in the off season–certainly at least among position players. But there is also little question he is the best offensive and defensive outfielder available. Win now Mariners?
Alex Gordon (32)-.280/.380/.435 wRC+ 117. Alex Gordon is as fine a left fielder defensively and offensively as there is in the game. It is hard to imagine he won’t exercise his option for 2016 with the Royals. But if he’s looking further afield, there aren’t many better players for a revamped Mariners outfield.
Austin Jackson(29) .265/.307/.378 wRC+ 92 Ah, an old friend. Despite utterances to the contrary, Jackson had a better year offensively and defensively than 2014. Of the names above, he is the weakest offensive player, but someone whose skills were never suited to his role as a lead-off hitter. He had an above average year defensively and he knows Safeco and Seattle.
The Brad Miller Experiment
We finished the season with lots of opportunities to see Brad Miller roaming center field. The result? Small sample size so it’s way too early to tell. But the early defensive numbers are terrible–too awful to repeat here, they will frighten small children. But you can look. See those big negative numbers; those are bad. I don’t know if Miller can be transformed into a regular outfielder. I don’t like the idea, but there are certainly plenty of cases in which moving a player from the outfield has worked. You can start with Dustin Ackley who became a pretty decent left fielder. Alex Gordon is another player who failed as a third baseman, but became a really good left fielder. You’ll notice they were corner outfielders. Miller could become one of those–probably an at least average one. I don’t like the idea of Miller in center field. I don’t believe you give a guy who has never played the position the responsibility of positioning other players, requiring the best reads off the bat and the best instincts, determining the best routes to the ball–that’s just a lot. Miller may become a good outfielder; he may even become a good centerfielder–Robin Yount did it. But Robin Yount is a Hall of Famer, and, dream as we might, Brad Miller is not. No, you don’t give a new 16 year old driver the keys to a Lamorghini. Miller could fill a corner outfield spot as he continues to work on his game. My own personal view is that Miller may be most valuable as a trading chip, one of the few the Mariners have, but maybe he could mature into a nice corner outfielder.
I know, you always take the best player available. But look, the Mariners are in a very tough spot. This team has not developed a major league level outfielder in the entire time Jack Zdurencik was here. There are some marginal guys like James Jones, there are some guys who became outfielders like Stefen Romero and Patrick Kivlehan in Tacoma, even first rounder Alex Jackson from 2014, but they are athletes and bat first guys, not players who were drafted as outfielders. I have repeatedly stated my objections to taking a hitter, sticking a glove on their hand, waving a magic wand and stating “You are now an outfielder,” and hoping for the best. Corey Hart, Michael Morse, Logan Morrison, Mark Trumbo. These are all players who came to the Mariners in the hopes they could play a position requiring considerably more athletic ability than they had. Not their fault, the numbers were all right there for the Z-man to see. Perhaps if he thought they were important he’d still have a job. No, this team must give attention to the outfield position in the draft. Ken Griffey, Jr. and Adam Jones, the two best outfielders ever developed by the Mariners, were both No. 1 picks.
Wednesday night the M’s managed to stake Roenis Elias to 3-1 lead by the time he left in the 6th inning. But the bullpen, as it has most of the season, was unable to to hold it. Closer Tom Wilhelmsen, after five days of inactivity wasn’t sharp, gave up the tying run in the ninth, and inevitably a variety of Rollins’, Zychs and whoever else was handy made short work of things in the 10th.
Last night’s game was strictly ant-climax as an early injury to starter James Paxton led to a string of relievers who helped the Royals to one of those all-too familiar double digit romps, 10-4 over the visiting boys from Seattle. The Royals clinched their first division title in 30 years, while the Mariners clinched a final road series to LA before returning to Seattle to play out the string.
For those of you counting the ways the M’s can sneak into the division title or find the secret entrance into the wild card race, you’re running out of games and fingers. The division leading Rangers are red-hot and have a 9.5 game lead and the M’s have nine games left to play. The M’s are six games out of the wild card race with six teams in front of them for the final spot.
Even my modest goals of finishing at .500 and catching the hated Angels seem unlikely after these two losses. The M’s are 4.5 games behind the demons from Orange County. They would have to go 8-1 over their final games to reach .500. With Taijuan Walker being held out to limit his innings, and James Paxton possibly injured, the M’s would have to cobble together four pretty amazing starts from the likes of Vidal Nuno and some combination of bullpen swill in order to have a shot at that.
The one possibility at satisfaction is for the Mariners to breeze into the Big A tonight and take three from the Angels. Knocking those red shirted, haloed, buggers out of the wild card race would be good enough.
The M’s have played some pretty good ball over the past few weeks, but they didn’t leave any margin for error. The team just waited a little too long for to play up to their talent level. The little tease is over.
In 2009 new Mariners center fielder Franklin Gutierrez had one of the best defensive seasons in major league history. A .283/.339/.425 hitter, the Mariners believed the 26-year old outfielder could hold down Safeco’s vast centerfield for years to come. Nicknamed “Death to Flying Things” Gutierrez was signed to a four-year, $20.5 million contract before the 2010 season. It was the apex of his baseball career. By the summer of 2010 with his defensive stats still good, but not as good, and his promise as a defensive whiz with power evaporating, it’s clear the M’s did not have the player they thought they had.
Franklin Gutierrez, And Today’s Thing To Be Concerned About
Something was wrong with Gutierrez. He was pale and thin and seemed to feel poorly. In 2011 his plate appearances slipped from 639 to 344. Gutierrez revealed he was fighting Irritable Bowel Syndrome the following spring. His plate appearances in 2012 declined by half. Groin injuries, hamstring injuries, arm problems followed in 2013, together with rumors of a genetic disorder that caused inflammation of his joints.
It’s Time For Seattle Mariners To Give Up On Franklin Gutierrez
Before the 2014 season, Guti announced he was done, that he would devote the year to dealing with his IBS and ankylosing spondylitis, the degenerative disorder affecting his joints and spine.
Jun 25, 2013
Franklin Gutierrez won’t play in 2014
But before the 2015 season began, Gutierrez signed a minor league deal with Mariners to give it one last try. He reported to Tacoma and lit up the PCL. Of course, everybody lights up the Coast League, so when he was called up to the Mariners on June 24th, everyone welcomed him but his teammates, the fans, the press knew two things:
Gutierrez would have to demonstrate he could still play the game at a major league level.
He’d also have to show he had overcome the chronic injuries and nagging illness that prevented the manager from writing his name on a lineup card when he was needed.
Ten Years, One Pitch: Franklin Gutierrez redeems the Mariners and himself in 6-5 walk off over Blue Jays
Fast forward to September 22nd. To say Gutierrez has shown the cynics he can still play the game is an understatement. If he could simply gather in the attention of the national press, and if he had enough at-bats to qualify as a full time player–nobody would be talking about Prince Fielder or Kendrys Morales as Comeback Player of the Year in the AL:
Slash line .315/.369/.692. That’s a 1.061 OPS
OPS + 191 (100 is average, Nelson Cruz has an OPS+ of 169)
25 extra base hits, including 15 dingers in 160 plate appearances.
270 innings in a corner outfield position with a UZR/150 rating of 9.6 (average is 0. In 2012 and 2013 Guti had a negative rating in CF.)
At the present time, Franklin Gutierrez holds the Mariners record for fewest at bats per home run at 9.7.
It is truly something to celebrate. And we should, with Franklin, for Franklin as joyously as we can because his is a great story of redemption, of persistence, of triumph. And because the Mariners have a .1% chance of making the playoffs it is time to think about the 2016 season, and Guti’s role in it.
First things first:
Gutierrez is a free agent
Gutierrez has a degenerative condition that is likely to worsen
2015, as glorious as it is, epitomizes a small sample size.
Gutierrez at his very best never had an offensive season resembling this one.
Franklin Gutierrez has a legion of fans. He’s always had a host of Seattle admirers, even when reporters were calling him “The Man of Glass.” Count me among them. Given what he’s accomplished this year, it is only natural to wonder what a season of Guti in the outfield would look like.
Likely we would be disappointed. Though he doesn’t have unacceptable splits (.283 vs RHP/.333 LHP in a small sample size,) he has functioned so well because manager Lloyd McClendon has used him sparingly. When he was unavailable for a few days in August, I cringed. Here we go again. In order to get the best out of Gutierrez, using him sparingly against left handed pitchers and selected right handers seems to be the proper formula. Gutierrez can easily form a platoon with Seth Smith in an outfield corner, and can pick up some additional at bats at DH if Cruz occasionally plays some right.
I know what some of you are thinking. The M’s need a center fielder, Guti would be perfect. Wrong. Guti in 2015 is not Guti in 2009, or 2010, not even of 2012 or 2013 when he wasn’t very good. In a television interview this weekend, Gutierrez was asked about whether he wished he could play center. He replied wistfully that he wishes things were different, but he was really better suited for the corner now. Franklin Gutierrez is now 32. He’s been through the equivalent of a health warzone, and emerged alive, but not unscathed.
And before we go one more step we must accept one more likelihood: Franklin Gutierrez is never likely to have another season like this again. There is nothing in his past to suggest he will be this good a hitter with this much power again. The most homers he’s ever hit in a season is 18 in that magical 2009 season. He did that with 629 plate appearances. Do the math that’s 31.1 at bats per home run. We might want to imagine what he can do with 600 plate appearances (which he won’t get in order to keep him on the field) but don’t for a minute imagine it will be like 60 homers. Jimmie Foxx in 1932, his best career year, had an AB/Hr ratio of 10.1. Hank Greenberg’s best was in 1938 at 9.6 AB/HR. They were two of the most successful right handed hitters (pre-steroids) of all time. Please, accept now that we should remember 2015, but it will be a statistical outlier.
Every time I think about this season I am disappointed. This should have been the year. And because the Mariners are playing so well at this moment it hurts that much more. But there are great stories on this team. Nelson Cruz has been so much more than I thought he would be. Tom Wilhelmsen has made the most of his opportunities in the ashes of the bullpen left by Fernando Rodney. Every time I see in my mind Franklin Gutierrez whacking a long fly into the seats I feel a warm glow where my heart should be. Take these moments and enjoy every one remaining to you for the rest of the season.
There is no question in my mind Guti has a place on this team in 2016–if the Mariners choose to bring him back and if he wants to be here. I’ve included the headlines to help you remember what a long road back it’s been. But don’t fool yourself. Don’t expect too much.
For the entire 2015 season I’ve complained about the inconsistency of the starting rotation.I’ve also fussed about the bullpen (but then again who hasn’t.) More than anything, however, I’ve tried to understand why a pitching staff that was so incredibly good, historically good at preventing runs, could be so much worse in just one year. Yes, there were some personnel changes and some injuries, but especially in the case of the bullpen, not that much.
I was sure one of the reasons for the early implosion of the bullpen was because the M’s starters suffered from Early Innings Meltdown Syndrome, or EIMS. I looked for starts in both seasons in which pitchers did not go at least six innings. Why six, why not five or seven? Six is the yardstick used to identify a “quality start.” I didn’t try to factor in runs allowed, because I really wanted to look at how much work was foisted back on the shoulders of the bullpen. Did they suffer from overwork in 2015 as opposed to 2014? My hypothesis was that the 2015 team had far more incidents of EIMS than in 2014, which likely contributed to bullpen exhaustion and collapse, especially in April.
In order to learn this I sat for a couple of hours looking at looking at every box score for 2014 and 2015 on Baseball-Reference.com. I checked each game for starts under six inning for each pitcher who started a game for the M’s in the two seasons. I’ve given the name of the pitcher and the number of starts less than six innings. It would be great if I could display this as a chart–but no such luck:
Roenis Elias–17 starts less than six innings
Erasmo Ramirez–9 starts less than six innings
James Paxton–5 starts less than six innings
Blake Beavan–1 start less than six innings
Chris Young–11 starts less than six innings
Brandon Maurer–6 starts less than six innings
Hisashi Iwakuma–7 starts less than six innings
Felix Hernandez–5 starts less than six innings
Taijuan Walker–3 starts less than six innings.
Tom Wilhelmsen–2 starts less than six innings.
Altogether that’s 66 starts that went less than six innings. Of those 13 of them occurred in April, 7 in May, 10 in June, 8 in July, 12 in August, and 15 in September. Felix had his 8-run 2-inning meltdown against the Blue Jays on September 23rd, which likely cost him the Cy Young Award. With 66 starts that went fewer than six innings the Mariners allowed 554 runs, the fewest in franchise history.
The 2015 season looks a bit different, as you might expect, but perhaps not in the way you (or I) imagined.
Taijuan Walker–10 starts less than six innings
Felix Hernandez-4 starts less than six innings
Hisashi Iwakuma–7 starts less than six innings
James Paxton–5 starts less than six innings
Roenis Elias–10 starts less than six innings
J.A. Happ–8 starts less than six innings.
Mike Montgomery–5 starts less than six innings
Vidal Nuno–4 starts less than six innings
Edgar Olmos–2 starts less than six innings.
Altogether that’s 55 starts that went less than six innings. Of these, 9 occurred in April, 9 were in May, 6 in June, 8 in July, 10 in August, and 8 in September. In 150 games the Mariners allowed 669 runs.
As you can see, my hypothesis is shot all to hell. The 2014 team seemed to suffer more from EIMS than the 2015 team, despite being much better. One of my beliefs was that a lot of poor and brief April starts got the bullpen off to a bad start. But the M’s had a much worse start in April, using the same criteria, in 2014.
So comparing just these two sets of numbers what can we learn about he M’s pitching? Nothing factual. Maybe the bullpen was so good in 2014, Lloyd was simply willing to go to them much more often, including earlier in games, resulting in fewer six inning starts. . And in 2015 the reverse is true–the bullpen is poison, stay away as long as possible.
However, it is not too difficult by simply looking at fairly basic numbers this group of starters is not as good as last year’s. Of the entire rotation, only King Felix has an ERA+ higher than league average of 100. He’s only at 107, much lower than 2014’s 168. Remember the September 23, 2014 loss to the Blue Jays when Felix gave up 8 runs in two innings? Felix has had three of those games this year, capped by the August 15th Fenway horror show when he gave up 10 runs in 2.1 innings. The only difference was that in 2015 so many teammates were willing to jump on board and contribute to the bonfire-final score 22-10.
In the bullpen, only Tom Wilhelmsen and Carson Smith have above average ERA+. The season totals for everyone else are pretty bad. Low ERA+, high WHIP, high ERA.
In any case, there doesn’t seem to be much causal relationship between the mediocre rotation and the lousy bullpen. They both just suck. Hopefully the new GM will have a lot better analytical tools than i do and will be much better about recognizing patterns than I am, and, most importantly, have a plan to solve the problem.
The Ichiro Watch
Editor’s Note: At no time did I suggest in my article the Mariners should go get Ichiro. I was merely observing the Marlins expressed an interest in bringing him back. I know Mariners and Marlins both start with M.
Ichiro went 0-4 in Saturday’s 5-2 loss against the Nationals
ichiro went 0-4 in Sunday’s 13-3 loss to the Nationals with three strikeouts.
I was poking through MLB Trade Rumors this morning and wandered across this quote by Miami Marlins President of Baseball Operations Michael Hill about outfielder Ichiro Suzuki:
The organization is “pleased with the job he’s done for us,” Hill said. He also suggested Ichiro was in the team’s future plans.
I’ve seen all the great Mariner players: Alvin Davis, Mark Langston, Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey, Jr., Jay Buhner, Dan Wilson, Edgar Martinez, Jamie Moyer, Freddie Garcia, Felix Hernandez and a whole bunch more, and Ichiro Suzuki was as great, in his own way, as any of them.
Watching him play right field was a real treat. The ways he managed to get on base were always amazing. And then once in a while he’d really surprise you.
I was at Safeco with friends sitting in right field. The Red Sox were in town. I don’t like the Sox, but I hate their faux fans that infest Safeco Field when Boston is in town even more. But predictably the M’s had fallen behind. Not much was going on (this was in say 2006 and the M’s were baaaad) We entertained ourselves by raining abuse on Red Sox right fielder Trot Nixon. Nixon deserved this treatment anyway because, let’s face it, his name is Trot, and he’d hit a two run homer to put Boston ahead. Late in the game, the Mariners rallied, loading the bases, Ichiro stepped into the batters box and tatered the ball into the seats a few sections from where we sitting. Suzuki Salami wins the game.
Ichiro has been gone from Safeco for three full seasons and part of another. When he was traded to the Yankees, I didn’t shed a tear, but I felt like something was over. And maybe it had ended years before. Ichiro was a very highly paid player with a limited and declining skill set. He didn’t hit for power, didn’t walk much, his defensive numbers were diminishing, and as a player whose skills were really complementary to what everyone else on the team could do–he’s a run scorer, not really a clutch hitter who drives in other runners–there wasn’t much room for a player who had come to be a lighting rod for his style of play, his high salary, as well as what he could do for a lousy 2012 Mariners team.
Ichiro endured questioning from the press about his style of play and why he wasn’t willing to change it. Fans questioned his heart and his leadership ability. Even his teammates seemed to be at odds with him as Ichiro, seemingly isolated by language, culture, and a fanatical devotion to regimen and routine often seemed unwilling to do what was best for the team–whether that was trying to hit for more power or moving his show to centerfield. This view has been questioned by his Yankee and Marlins teammates, but when a team is losing, and one player with a really big contract doesn’t seem to be providing bang for the buck, it’s easy to point fingers.
I’d also suggest that Ichiro was playing in the wrong era. Coming to the Mariners near the end of the steroids era, when diminutive teammate Brett Boone was hitting 37 home runs and speedy outfielder Brady Anderson was smashing 50, Ichiro’s perennial 200+ hits a year between 2001-2010 somehow seem less significant. If Ichiro came to the 2016 Mariners as a high average, high on-base percentage, great defender in the outfield, we might feel differently than we did when we waved good-bye to him on July 24, 2012. Could you imagine Ichiro on a team that had Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager hitting behind him instead of Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley and Casper Wells? Could you imagine that Ichiro today on a team like the Kansas City Royals?
But it looks like Ichiro may be back with the Marlins next year. That’s a team that started hot, but suffered a fair number of injuries and tanked early. Ichiro had a surprising 405 plate appearances for the Fish. His slash line was only .242/.297/.298, a shadow of his career .314/.357.407. Suzuki had only 12 extra base hits, and drove in only 20 runs. Ichiro had 11 stolen bases. He didn’t strike out much–but he didn’t walk much either. But he did play respectable defense for Miami with UZR150 rating of 12.2. By comparison, Mariners right fielder Nelson Cruz was a -11.7.
One inescapable fact is this: Ichiro Suzuki is 67 hits away from a career total of 3,000. That’s a guaranteed ticket to Cooperstown. Significantly, Ichiro has 4211 career hits including his nine years playing in the Japan Pacific League. That’s 45 hits short of Pete Rose’s career 4256. There is little question comparison of the two career compilations will spark a plethora of disagreement about the validity of Ichiro’s Blue Wave stats. But there is little question Ichiro has had a fabulous career.and ranks with some of the best pure hitters of all time.
With the end of his career in sight, it’s great to see Ichiro may have a little bit more time to make history. He will doubtless enter the Hall as a Mariner. He’s the next logical addition to the Mariners Hall of Fame. Ichiro may be quirky and press-shy (at least in America) but from 2001-2010 he was a baseball god in Seattle, and I hope he makes it to the 3,000 hit finish line.
15 games left to play. Those conspiracy theorists believing the M’s can still sneak into the playoffs should take their meds. They are eight games behind the Rangers, with three left to play with them, and still in fourth place behind the Astros and Angels. I have some more reachable goals. Catch the hated Angels. Try to finish at .500. Doesn’t sound like much, but the team would have to go 10-5 to reach hit .500.
No it’s time to look ahead and start making wish lists. With a search on for a GM, we should all apply for the job. Heck, I couldn’t do worse than Jack Zdurencik, could I? Certainly better than Bill Bavasi. So I couldn’t actually get the job (sigh) I could certainly send a list like a letter to Santa Claus. So here’s what I’m thinking.
There’s no way to get around the fact the Mariners rotation underachieved in 2015. Felix Henandez may be one of the only player to go 200 innings and 200 strikeouts in seven consecutive seasons. He may even have his first 20 win season. But I’m also sure he would tell you this is not one of his best seasons.Tai Walker had a solid year of development. But after that everyone else was a mess. The J.A. Happ experience went on the road to Pittsburgh where it seems to be doing quite well. Hisashi Iwakuma has pitched well since coming back from injury, but he’s only made 17 starts. James Paxton, also injured, made only 11 starts. Roenis Elias, with 17 trips to the mound, is inconsistent.
The M’s have to bolster their rotation. They went in to the season with little starting depth, and when the season started with lots of short outings and then two of its mainstays on the DL it had two important effects. A) Overworked the bullpen and contributed to its collapse. B) Forced the team to rely for too many starts on Mike Montgomery and Vidal Nuno, who may turn out to be okay, but certainly weren’t ready to be the go to guys yet. Lots of very good starting pitching will be on the FA market this year including David Price, Johnny Cueto and Scott Kazmir. Oh, and that Iwakuma fellow. The M’s should try to sign Iwakuma to a team-friendly deal and lay out the cash for a big arm. . The M’s still need the Elias’s and the Nuno’s for depth or in other roles, but the M’s need a stronger core. Go big or go home
The ‘pen was such a mess for so much of the year, it’s hard to know who the M’s really have. Tom Wilhelmsen, Carson Smith, and Danny Farquhar are pitching well as the season winds down, but can the team count on them for next year. And the rest of the relief corps are a bunch of young guys + Joe Beimel. What are they worth? In all likelihood the M’s need to add another couple of arms to their ‘pen for next year in addition to those already mentioned. Should they go after an established closer or trust their luck to The Bartender who has struggled in that role a couple of times? Not a lot of closers on the market and they will carry a hefty price tag.
This position is a terribly weak spot for the Mariners. Seth Smith is returning. He is the only veteran outfielder I see who is coming back. Smith should only play against right-handed hitting. The Mariners should only play Nelson Cruz at DH. Yes, I know, he doesn’t like that, but he is not a good outfielder. Every defensive metric shows his 2015 year as an outfielder well below average. At bat, he’s been amazing, but his performance in the outfield in a large park is not good and undermines the pitching. Finally, the M’s cleverly traded away their only veteran centerfielder. Yes, they’ve had guys in Brad Miller, Sean O’ Malley and James Jones showing their stuff. I don’t believe centerfielder is where you put players learning a new position. It brings back nightmares of Abraham Almonte. The Mariners need a minimum of two outfielders including a veteran centerfielder. Denard Span, Austin Jackson, and Colby Rasmus are all available and all would be better than taking a chance on someone who doesn’t belong there, though Span has been broken most of the year.
Logan Morrison, we hardly knew ye. Yes, LoMo is a good guy and a decent defender, but I bid him adieu. The M’s should commit themselves to Mark Trumbo as the team’s first baseman. Morrison has simply never become the hitter we thought he would when the Mariners traded for him last year. Though Trumbo is still the one dimensional player I believed him to be when the M’s acquired him in the mid season deal that sent Wellington Castillo to the Diamondbacks, he’s a better one dimensional player than Morrison. With a ..254/.306/.416 slash line, it is somewhat better than LoMo’s, and it’s clear that Trumbo has improved under Edgar Martinez’s tutelage.
Wow, I hate to tell a GM what to do when it comes to coaching staffs, but everyone seems to credit Edgar Martinez with the general improvement of the Mariners offense since he joined the team. Honestly, I was opposed to Edgar’s hiring. It seemed like another look back at the M’s glorious past, instead of a real accountable improvement of the team. An examination of team offensive stats, however, show the M’s improved from last or next to last in most offensive categories. Though they are still in the bottom third in most areas, the team has improved. (Hah! The Mariners actually lead the Angels in OPS and runs scored!) More than that Edgar’s sublime career is now tied to a management team that is not so good if not execrable. But if a new regime held on to Papi, validating his success at a position the M’s have routinely tossed the occupant of overboard at mid-season as a sacrifice to the gods of shitty offenses, it would mean something good.
Win at Safeco.
The M’s are currently 34-41 at Safeco Field with six games left to play They will have a losing record at home for 2015. . In the Jack Zdurencik era, the Mariners have had winning seasons at home only twice. What is that about? How can any GM be taken seriously when they can’t be bothered to analyze and determine the skills set a team needs to win in the ballpark where they play half their games? This GM will have the core of the team he has. Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Felix Hernandez and Kyle Seager are going nowhere. but the rest of the team should be a blank canvas, and the goal should be to put together a team that can win in a roomy pitcher’s park. There are probably several routes to winning, but playing well at home and capturing the fan base should be part of the equation.
Just my wish list, but I don’t think I’m way off the mark. Now for my record wish list . . .
With school back in session, I headed off to bed in the bottom of the seventh of last night’s game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Taijuan Walker had finished his work for the night, the M’s led the Angels 4-1 on the batting prowess of Seth Smith, but I was going to miss the offensive explosion in the inning when the M’s scored six runs to put an exclamation point on a fine game. Yeah, stick it to those Angels, I always say. The M’s move within five games of .500, their consolation prize for the season. Better still, they make it that much harder for an indifferent Angels team to position themselves for a Wild Card spot.
But the hero of the night, and one of my favorite players on this team, was lefty Smith. When G.M. Jack Zdurencik acquired him in the off-season for young right-handed reliever Brandon Maurer, I was quite pleased. It put a solid, if unspectacular, player in the perennially short-handed Mariners outfield, though it cost them a pretty talented player in Maurer.
Of course the plan was that Smith would be the left handed bat in a right field platoon with Justin Ruggiano. Things never quite worked out that way. Nelson Cruz went to right field. Ruggiano was gone. Smith spent a lot of time at DH until Dustin Ackley’s struggles caught up with him. Lots of turmoil and unmet expectations could have turned Smith’s season upside down.
Instead, he’s put together a solid if unspectacular season. His slash line is .251/.328/.458. He has an OPS+ of 120, not as good as last year, but an above average number in line with his career numbers. His wRC+ is 116, above his career average of 108. Overall he’s done his job, hitting right handed pitching for a .256 average, while avoiding left handed pitching that holds him to a .220 average. He has 46 extra base hits, including 11 dingers in 401 plate appearances. All that while providing average defense in the outfield. According to Fangraphs, Smith is a pretty nice .2.3 WAR player.
There were a lot of expectations for this season, that have mostly turned to dust. The offense has been spotty, the rotation has had weeks of inconsistency, the bullpen collapsed. Amid all that, Smith has pretty much been the player we thought we were getting on December 1st when the Maurer for Smith trade was made: a guy who hits right handers and plays a decent defense. No flash, no drama, just does what he’s supposed to do.
Smith’s home run to right off Garrett Richards in the 2nd inning got the party started last night. He tacked on an RBI double in the 5th just for extra measure. A nice job of sticking it to a team I really don’t like. But he’s been doing that all year.
I think I write one or two football articles per year. Usually it’s to celebrate something great the Seahawks have done, But I confess, I’m not a devoted No. 12. I watch the games. I like our home team, appreciate their considerable talents on the field as well the work John Schneider and Pete Carroll do to keep good players who are the heart and soul of this team. But at bottom, I’m a baseball person, and I only have so much energy to give to football.
But another reason is, that while I love my hometown team, I have absolutely no respect for the NFL. I have a natural aversion to big, greedy corporations in general. There is no question in my mind the raison d’etre for Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NBA, the NHL, all the way down to profession lacrosse is to make money for their owners and themselves. And they all go about it in similar but profoundly different ways. I find the NBA to be ridiculous, kind of a cross between organized crime and professional wrestling. MLB is like the “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit,” rich, conservative and corporate, and a bit freer with its considerable cash. But the NFL is beneath contempt. Their goal is big, big dollars for owners. Branding and control of its brand is everything. It’s run like a gulag in which players are suspended and fined without evidence of wrongdoing, and then made to look foolish when any court with half a brain reminds President Roger Goodell there are such things as contract law and due process. The NFL wants to be organized crime, but they’re run by corporate tools too stupid to pull it off.
Which brings me to the real topic of of this story and that is the Kam Chancellor hold out. I like Chancellor. I like the way he plays, that he is a leader in the clubhouse, that he is a good and decent man. We all know the story: Chancellor, with three years remaining on his contract, wants a new contract, one more in keeping with his achievements as possibly the best strong safety in pro football. The Seahawks have refused to tweak any part of his contract, including moving guaranteed money forward to sweeten the pot for No. 31 at this time. Rumor has it the league has put pressure on the team not to give in to Chancellor in any way.
Look, I’m a teacher. I’m a rules guy. Contracts are agreements freely entered into, and legally binding, period, the end. Players, having signed contracts, should honor them.
Of course a contract is a contract, except when it’s not. In Major League Baseball, when a player signs a contract it is binding on both parties. Robinson Cano signed a 10 year $240 million deal with the Mariners in 2014. If Cano’s skills go in the toilet in year six, the M’s must continue paying him $24 million per year for the length of the contract. Does this sometimes lead to difficulty? Do you remember the four years of the Chone Figgins deal?
But in the NFL, in fact, a contract is not a contract. Kam Chancellor can be cut at any time after the first year and be paid zilch except for the guaranteed part of his contract. If Chancellor plays this year and suffers a serious injury that reduces his effectiveness, slows him down, suffers concussions, the Seahawks can choose not to bring him back next year. This is not a theoretical situation. Robert Turbin-gone; Zach Miller-history, Anthony McCoy-cut; all suffered from injury in the service of the team and were waived or cut. Chancellor’s contract through 2017 is worthless. The risk is all his. It actually makes no sense for a player to sign a multi-year deal, because a player may not be adequately compensated as his game improves, and after the first year it all means nothing anyway.
I understand that the sporting press and Seahawks fans are unhappy about Chancellor’s holdout. He’s an important part of the Legion of Boom, an incredibly important contributor to the team’s success. But ultimately this is about more than the Seattle Seahawks and Kam Chancellor, it is about the basic inequities of compensation in the NFL.
One can piss and moan all one wants about millionaire players and they should be happy to being raking in loads of cash while playing a game. But let’s be clear, the average career for an NFL player is three years. Not that many players make loads of cash (ask Russell Wilson about his pay in his first three years) And playing a long career isn’t necessarily a prize. You can check with Junior Seau or Dave Duerson’s family for confirmation on that. Or maybe ask Jim McMahon or Refrigerator Perry.
And one has to wonder too if there isn’t something fundamentally wrong about a league that earned about $10 billion last year and distributed $226.4 million in revenue sharing cash to each team. Yet the salary cap for each team, the amount that can be spent on player salaries was only $143.28 million. The NFL has no minor leagues to sustain. Where did the rest of the money go? NFL charities? Settling Ray Rice’s lawsuit? Paying off the players for covering up concussion related injuries? They aren’t paying for stadiums because American taxpayers have kicked in $4.7 billion toward new ballparks for NFL teams since 1997.
The NFL may want to convince you this is a simplistic approach to the economics of football. Maybe it is, but I think it simply comes down to this: the NFL is awash in cash. It’s well documented goal is to reach $25 billion in revenue by 2027. But what will it do with the money? It’s clear that the money isn’t intended for the players, for the Kam Chancellors and others. They are simply the mules that pack in the money for the league and the owners. The NFL has proven again and again its disdain for the players with the 2011 lockout, its suppression of medical evidence in the investigation of chronic brain injury and concussions, and a discipline policy every bit as fair as the Spanish Inquisition. It is a sport that is slowly killing its biggest stars every practice and every game, but wants only more games while squeezing out the biggest bucks possible for the owners.
I have no idea what the NFLPA was thinking when they extended their current contract to 2021 and accepted a paltry 47% of revenue toward salaries, but the current collective bargaining agreement keeps labor peace, while decisively unbalancing the financial arrangements between the players, without whom there is no NFL, and the league and its owners. Perhaps that worked before the dramatic increase in revenues, but the money is so big and getting so much bigger every year the deal simply seems foolish.
Yes, any Seahawks fan should be rooting for Kam Chancellor to return to the practice field and the playing field They will need him. But there is more at stake here, and Chancellor’s criticisms of his deal clearly shine a light on the inequities of the way players are compensated in this sport. The NFL demonstrates on a daily basis they are happy to do what all big, greedy corporations do: suppress labor costs while maximizing profits for their share holders (the team owners.) Roger Goodell and his brethren would have been quite comfortable hanging out with Andrew Carnegie and J.P. Morgan in the Gilded Age.