The Mariners and the Offseason

By Blaidd Drwg

I keep hearing that the Mariners are going to be a major player in the FA market this season. Here is where I think the Mariners have some major holes to fill to bring them to an 82-85 win team:

RF and LF (assuming that Dustin Ackley is their CF)

1B or DH (depending on where you play Smoak)

C (you need someone who can play almost every day in case Zunino proves 2013 was not a fluke)

SP (at least one back of the rotation guy)

RP (the bullpen needs help – too many guys imploded last year)

If you want to talk about being a playoff contender, they probably need to replace Smoak with someone better and they probably need 2 middle of the rotation guys in addition to 2 OF, a catcher and some bullpen help. I personally think they need to do more than that and that would be a ton of spending, so it isn’t going to happen.

I write this because of the flurry of activity that has occurred over the last week. The A’s have made trades to bolster their team and so have the Rangers. The Yankees have signed the best catcher and OF on the market and appear to still be in the running for Cano. The Tigers are making themselves better through trades and signings. The Mariners? Well, they did sign Willie Bloomquist. Are you excited yet?

I keep hearing the Mariners are the front runners for Robinson Cano. He tried to play chicken with the Yankees and the Yankees wouldn’t budge, so his agent, Jay-Z, decided to pull a Scott Boras move and get a bidding war for Cano’s services going, hence the Mariners involvement. The M’s are a team with just 2 players under contract (Iwakuma and Felix) and a bunch of guys who are arbitration eligible/under team control. If the M’s don’t go out and spend any money on FA’s this season, their payroll will be in the 45-50 million dollar range. Based on that, the M’s could afford to overpay Cano in the 25-27 million dollar range just to get him to sign.

With the M’s offer, Jay-Z goes back to the Yankees and says, “See, there is a team willing to pay my client 27 million per for 8 years, but he really wants to stay in NY. If you do 25 million per for 7 years with an option, we can call be happy.” Unless the Rangers step in, I would put money on Cano signing for 7 years/175 million with the Yankees.

There are a couple of reasons why signing Cano makes no sense, especially for 8 years:

  • You have now committed 50+ million dollars on 2 players through 2019. That is a ton of payroll on two guys considering one is a pitcher and the other will be in his late 30’s.
  • Signing Cano to that contract would basically mean he is untradeable. You now have to hope that his batting numbers don’t fall into a black hole in Safeco, or that he becomes unhappy if the team is not competitive.
  • You have no place to play him. I don’t think you can put him at DH, so that means you have to find a new position for Nick Franklin, unless you put Cano at 1B and move Smoak to DH.
  • Your team is going to get really expensive over the next 3 seasons. All of the guys under team control will get bumps due to arbitration and the arbitration eligible guys will get huge bumps from free agency.  As deep as the M’s farm system is, it can’t replace the entire roster, so you are probably looking at adding 40-50 million to your payroll in the next few seasons, assuming that you keep all of the important guys.
  • You are going to have to sign or replace Iwakuma. He is on the last year of his contract in 2014 and you are probably going to be paying him in the 15-17 million per range unless he implodes this season. The M’s hold an option on him for 2015, but I expect that the contract will get extended sometime this season and void the team option.
  • When was the last time a mega deal free agent worked out for the team that signed him?

Cano makes sense if you are close to being a perennial contender. The Mariners are not. I suspect what happens in the next few months is the M’s sign Nelson Cruz, resign Kendrys Morales, a couple of replacement level guys for the bench , a scrap heap starter and a couple of fungible relief guys and plod their way to another 77-81 win season, hoping that all of the kids become superstars.

And folks wonder why I gave up my season tickets.

Robinson Cano and Free Agency

By Blaidd Drwg

I saw this piece on espn.com and my reaction was 3 words:

AIN’T GONNA HAPPEN!

Here are the details:

The gap between second baseman Robinson Cano and the New York Yankees on a new contract is enormous, with sources telling ESPN’s Buster Olney that the soon-to-be free agent is seeking approximately $305 million over 10 years.

Cano is going to be 31(ish) next season and, while he has been durible and excellent, he is on the wrong side of 30 and is more likely to get, at best, a 7 year $150 million dollar deal, and that is probably only if the Yankees bid on his services. He is due to decline, and I just don’t see any team willing to pay 30 million a year for a guy over 40, including the Yankees. It just won’t happen.

A Seattle Send-off for Mo

By Blaidd Drwg

What looking down the barrel of a loaded gun is like.
What looking down the barrel of a loaded gun is like.

It is somewhat rare for a player to call it a career while still performing at a high level. Mariano Rivera is a player who is doing just that. Mo is hanging it up after the season. He is going to be 44 in November and has decided it is time to spend more time with his family. Mo should end up his career with 1100+ appearances, 650+ saves, an ERA around 2.25 and a WHIP around 1, not to mention that he is arguably the greatest post season pitcher in MLB history. In 2018, you should be hearing Mariano Rivera’s name called at the podium in Cooperstown.

How good has Mo been in his age 43 season? How about 28 saves, 8.3 K/9 Innings, 4.83 K/BB ratio and a 1.44 ERA. Granted, his WHIP is 1.21 (which would be the highest of his career as a closer), but the guy is still one of a handful of guys I would want on the mound with the game on the line.

A few weeks ago, the Yankees were in town for their only time this season. Mo entered the game in the bottom of the 9th on the last game of the series, giving everyone one last chance to see him. This fact was not lost on several people sitting in my section – people who are Mariners season ticket holder and fans. There were several of us who gave Mo a standing ovation as he entered into the game, giving him the proper recognition he deserves. I couldn’t possibly dislike any team more than the Yankees, but Rivera has been something special for the better part of 2 decades and that needs to be recognized.

I decided to snap the picture in this post, trying to catch the delivery. The batter? Another old geezer – Raul Ibanez who is also north of 40. It is not every day in baseball that you get to see 2 40 year olds square off at the plate.

It was Willie, Linus and the Chuck

By Blaidd Drwg

With apologize to the great Terry Chapman.

They called him “Stretch”, he is a hall of famer and he was only the second best Willie on his team. He also had the distinction of almost bringing a World Series title to the Bay Area in 1962. Fifty years later, the Giants are back in the series, so it seems like a good time to post this.

Wilie McCovey almost made a place for himself in baseball lore in the 9th inning of game 7 of the 1962 series. Here is what happened (from Wikipedia):

The only run of this classic game came in the fifth inning when Tony Kubek grounded into a double play, Bill Skowron scoring from third. Ralph Terry, pitching the seventh game instead of Jim Bouton because of the rain delays, had given up Bill Mazeroski’s Series-winning walk-off home run two years earlier in Pittsburgh, but in his third start stifled the Giants’ power hitters. In the bottom of the ninth, pinch-hitter Matty Alou, batting for reliever Billy O’Dell, led off the inning with a bunt hit after first having a foul ball dropped, but Terry struck out the next two batters, Felipe Alou and Hiller. Mays hit a double into the right-field corner, but Maris played the carom well, then hit cut-off man Richardson with a throw that was quickly relayed home. Alou, aware of Maris’ strong arm, stopped at third. Facing Willie McCovey with two outs, Terry elected to pitch to him rather than walk the bases loaded, which would have brought up slugger Orlando Cepeda. Terry’s inside fastball on the second pitch handcuffed McCovey, who nonetheless adjusted his bat in mid-swing to extend his arms and hit what he later claimed was the hardest ball he had ever struck. The line drive appeared at first to be going over the head of a well-positioned Richardson, but was in fact sinking from topspin and Richardson made the catch without leaping to end the game. Terry was named the World Series MVP.

McCovey had a chance have one of the most dramatic series ending hits in history, but instead, he will have to be immortalized in the only two Peanuts baseball strips that mention an actual baseball game:

There is also a great interview with McCovey here.

It All Comes Down to This

By Blaidd Drwg

The playoffs are set, just a few teams jockeying for position.

Yankees and Orioles for the AL East – If the Yankees win, they win the division, so they control their own destiny. If they Orioles win and the Yankees lose, we get a tie breaker on Thursday. If the Orioles lose, the Yankees win the division.

Rangers and A’s for the AL West – man, this became a race all of a sudden. Both teams go into tonight’s game tied. The A’s are on fire, the Rangers are not. It should be a fun one to watch. The winner takes the division; the loser gets the wild card and has to fly cross country to play that game on Friday in NY or Baltimore if the Orioles win tonight.

The NL is set other than the Nats and Reds battling it out for the best record.

The most intriguing story line is Miguel Cabrera and his quest for the Triple Crown. Cabrera leads Mike Trout in BA by .007, Josh Hamilton in HR by 1 and Josh Hamilton in RBI by 11.

No one is going to catch Cabrera in RBI, so he has that one locked up.

For the HR’s, basically it is up to Hamilton. He needs 2 to take the lead and 1 to tie and is facing A’s rookie A.J Griffin. Hamilton has not homered in his last 8 games and has just 1 homer in 32 AB in Oakland this year. Cabrera should know if he has the HR title locked up before his game starts – the A’s/Rangers starts at 12:35 PM PT and the Tigers/Royals starts at 5:10 PM PT. I think I put my money on Cabrera winning this title outright as Hamilton won’t be swinging for the fences as the Rangers need to win this game.

BA is where it gets interesting. Trout faces the M’s and Blake Beavan this afternoon (3:40 PM PT start). Trout is a career 0-8 against Beavan and is just 12-41 at Safeco this season. If Trout manages to pull off a 4-4 afternoon, that would raise his average to .328571. Cabrera currently stands at .330645. Assuming that Trout goes 4-4, all Cabrera needs to do is to get 1 hit. It does not matter how many at bats he has. The only way that Cabrera does not win the title with a 4-4 day by Trout is if he goes 0-4 or worse. An 0-4 day would leave Cabrera at .328526 average, just a hair behind Trout. Cabrera should win this title too.

Regardless how you feel about the Triple Crown categories being over-rated, it is really cool to have something potentially happen that has not happened in 45 years.

 

UPDATE 3:54PM: Simply unbelievable – the A’s sweep the Rangers and take the division. The Nats get the NL best record and Cabrera locks up the HR and RBI titles. Mike Trout was hit by a pitch in his first at bat.

And Down the Stretch They Come…

By Blaidd Drwg

The NL has 4 of its 5 playoff spots finalized, with only the 2nd wild card still remaining. Even then, the Cardinals have a 3 game lead over the Dodgers with 6 games remaining, making it unlikely that the Dodgers will catch the Redbirds.

The AL is a different story – no one has actually clinched a playoff spot and it could be an interesting last week of the season. Going into Friday’s games, the Yankees lead the east by 1, the Tigers lead the central by 2 and the Rangers lead the west by 4. The wild card also has races, with the Orioles 1 game ahead of the A’s for the first spot and the A’s 2 games ahead of the Angels and Rays for the 2nd spot.

Here is how this is going to play out:
East:
Yankees have 6 games left – 3 at Toronto and 3 vs. Boston. They are in the best position to win the division since they play the two worst teams in the division and neither Boston nor Toronto is playing particularly well right now. As much as I know the Red Sox would like to spoil the Yankees playoff chances, I don’t think it will happen. I see the Yankees taking 5 of the 6 to win the division.

Orioles have 6 games left – 3 vs. Boston and 3 at Tampa.
Rays have 6 games left – 3 at Chicago and 3 vs. Baltimore.
The final TB-Baltimore series could really put a monkey wrench in the playoff chances for one of the two teams. Both the O’s and the Rays are hot and they both need to sweep their weekend series. It is entirely possible that both of these teams could make it to the playoffs, and I wouldn’t be shocked if they do.

Central:
Last week, the White Sox had a 3 game lead in the division. This week, they are trailing the Tigers by 2.
The White Sox need to take at least 2 out of three from the Rays (they really need a sweep) and then sweep the Indians in their last series. Why? Well the Tigers benefit from the most favorable remaining schedule of all the contenders – the have 3 at KC and finish with 3 vs. Minnesota. That is going to make it very tough on the Sox.

West:
The Rangers are in the driver’s seat, but by no means have it locked. They play 3 vs. the Angels and 3 at Oakland. Basically if they take 2 out of 3 from the Halos, the Rangers win the division and the Angels go home for the season.

The A’s are playing the Mariners for 3 and then finish with the Rangers. They really need to sweep the M’s and hope that either the Rangers fell apart against the Angels or have won the division and decided to monkey with their rotation to get it set for the playoffs. The A’s are a longshot to win the division but are in a pretty good spot for a wild card, even with their all-rookie rotation.

The Angels just basically need to win out against the Rangers and the Mariners. It could mean that there is meaningful baseball played in Safeco field in October, just not for the Mariners.

My Prediction:
East Winner: Yankees
Central Winner: Tigers
West Winner: Rangers
Wild Card 1: Orioles
Wild Card 2: A’s

Depending on everyone’s final record and how the wild card standings finish, you could actually end up with this nightmare scenario:

Oakland wins the 2nd wild card and flies to Baltimore, arriving sometime in the wee hours of the morning on Thursday

Oakland at Baltimore for the wild card game on Friday if Baltimore ends up with the best wild card record.

New York at Baltimore for the ALDS on Sunday if NY ends up with the best record.

MLB has decided in its infinite wisdom that the team with the best record gets to play the wild card winner (great), but the series format is 2 games at the WC winner and 3 at the Division Winner. So, the Yankees might not know that the need to get on a flight to Oakland until late Friday night. As much as I hate the Yankees, I don’t understand how that makes any sense. It probably negates any advantage they gain from playing the wild card winner. Of course, this gets much more interesting if there is a tie anywhere and we need a playoff to determine the winner.

Ichiro and His Trade to the Yankees

By Blaidd Drwg

At the time the Mariners traded Ichiro to the Yankees, I will be honest, I had absolutely no idea why the Yankees would have wanted him. They were pretty set in the outfield and really didn’t need a DH, so the trade seemed odd, especially since Ichiro has struggled over the last 2 season, particularly against left handed pitching. Something that did not get widely reported by the media in Seattle was this little detail of the deal from ESPN.com:

Before completing a trade to acquire the Japanese star, the Yankees spelled out a list of conditions to Ichiro, a former American League MVP and two-time batting champion.

Ichiro would be asked to switch positions, hit at the bottom of the lineup and possibly sit against left-handed pitching.

Ichiro knows his career is coming to an end and he is probably desperate to win a World Series title and the Yankees are his best hope for doing that this season. I found it very interesting that the Yankees scouting has noticed exactly what I have about Ichiro this season:

He can no longer play above average defense in right field.
He isn’t a top of the lineup hitter considering his sub .300 OBP.
He is cheating on fastballs against left handers and can’t hit them effectively anymore.
He has slowed down (there has been a huge drop in the number of infield hits he has had over the last 2 seasons).

The move to the Yankees has not really helped either – Ichrio had slash totals of 261/288/353 with the Mariners and 265/296/368 with the Yankees, translating to an OPS= of 82 with the Mariners and 77 with the Yankees. His time with the Yankees has been bizarre: he hit in 16 out of his first 17 games with them, but managed to only produce 2 multi-hit games. The Yankees have generally batted him in the bottom third of the lineup and have sat him the last 2 games against a lefty starting pitcher.

I have never been a huge Ichiro fan, but he was a fun and frustrating player to watch and I would love to see him win a championship. I suspect that if he does this season, he will call it quits and in 5 years become the first Japanese inductee into Cooperstown. If he does not, I bet he takes a part time role with a contender to try again next season. I think that even Ichiro has realized that he has reached the end of the line. He is currently 449 hits away from 3000 and I just don’t think he has enough left in the tank to get there.

How to Properly Deploy a Closer

By Blaidd Drwg

Scott Downs is the closer for the Angels. This is not really news. The Angles have about 5 guys they can mix and match in the 7th, 8th and 9th innings of a game they have the lead in, but Downs is the only left handed reliever of the bunch.

In the sweep of the Mariner recently, Downs picked up 2 saves in 3 appearances, which is also not news. What is news is how Mike Scioscia used Scott Downs, particularly in the appearance where he did not have a save.

In the Friday game, the Mariners blew a 4-3 lead in the top of the 9th, so naturally the closer comes in for the bottom of the 9th and shuts the door. Game over and a pretty common use for the closer. Sunday was pretty similar with Downs pitching in the 9th with a 4-2 lead and closing it out.

Saturday is where it gets interesting. The Angels have a 5-3 lead in the bottom of the 7th. The Mariners used a very lefty-heavy lineup that game. Jordan Walden starts the inning and walks lefty Mike Carp, strikes out righty Brendan Ryan (Carp stole 2nd during the AB) and lefty Dustin Ackley. At this point, Scioscia makes a move which was shocking – he brings in Scott Downs to face Ichiro. I don’t know if Scioscia is playing the percentages here (Ichiro was 2-3 career against Waldon and 5-17 career against Downs, but I know, sample size), or just didn’t have Downs ready to face Ackley (Ackley has a career OPS that is about 150 points lower against lefties that righties), but it worked, Ichiro bounced out to the pitcher and ended the inning.

Downs then came back out to pitch the 8th, giving up a single to Kyle Seager before retiring Smoak and Jaso. That brought up everybody’s favorite Miguel Olivo. Once again playing the percentages, Scioscia replaced the lefty Downs with righty Ernesto Frieri (who has been extraordinarily lights out since a trade to LA – 12 IP, 0 hits allowed, 25 strikeouts- no that is not a misprint). Frieri made Olivo look bad in striking him out to end the inning. Frieri blew through the M’s lineup in the 9th to end the game.

When was the last time that a manager had the sense to bring in the guy he considered his best reliever for the situation (Downs), who happened to be the closer, in a clutch situation in the 7th inning? It is something the Yankees did with Goose Gossage in the 1970’s and I seem to remember a few instances with the Royals doing it with Dan Quisenberry in the 1980’s, but that is about it.

The thing is, Scioscia did it again against the Yankees – he brought Downs in with a runner on 1st in the 8th inning with a 4-1 lead. The Yankees had Cano (Lefty), Texeiria (Switch Hitter) and Ibanez (Lefty) due up. Downs got out of the inning and was going to start the 9th when the Yankees pinch hit right handed hitter Jason Nix for lefty Eric Chavez. Downs was replaced with Ernesto Frieri in the 9th, when the Yankees had 2 right handed hitters following Nix and no other left handed bat on the bench. Frieri managed to load up the bases but got out of the jam to save the game.

Say what you want about Scioscia, I give him credit for using the pitcher he perceived to be best for the situation instead of leaving his closer on the bench for the 9th inning and potentially losing the game.

Yankees for Sale?

By Blaidd Drwg

It appears there was a report somewhere the Steinbrenners might be considering selling the Yankees, which, of course, they are denying. Brian Cashman, like a good company man, chimed in on this:

“It’s highly unlikely the family would consider selling,” he said to ESPNNewYork.com. “Every impression I have gotten from Hal leads me to beleive they plan to be involved in this for generations to come and pass it on to their children.”

The Steinbrenners are worth a lot of money without owing the Yankees, thanks to the family shipbuilding business. I don’t think you will see the family own the team forever, and I can see them selling the team for a number with a lot of 0’s in it in the next few years. It is strange though – a team that had a reputation for having a revolving door at manager for so long actually has had the longest running ownership group in baseball, since 1973. Only 3 other teams currently have the same owners for longer than 20 years – White Sox and Phillies (both owners bought the team in 1981) and the Twins (purchased in 1984).

My favorite line in the article (the bold part specifically, added by me):

The Daily News, citing anonymous sources, said that the market for premier teams, the departure of key Yankees veterans and the fact that Hal Steinbrenner is frustrated by baseball’s bloated salaries have conspired to make the family explore the possibility of selling the team.

Steinbrenner is frustrated by the system that his father created which has allowed them to make billions and has made the Yankees one of the most recognizable brand names on the planet? Really?