Friday, January 30, 2004

MBSBL Draft - Running Commentary 

Here is the Optimist's commentary on the Mariners Blogsphere Simulated Baseball League draft. Remember that a player's performance in 2003 will determine how that player performs in this Diamond Mind league. There is no need for projections. This is about building the best team knowing exactly how your players will perform.

And here is FAQ 1 posted on 2/7 and FAQ 2 posted on 2/17 (better late than never!)

Rounds 14-16 (waiting for last two picks)
Well, as I wrote in my summary of my LIMA time strategy, it looks like Fire Bavasi is in good shape, as Johan Santana can start games even though the MBSBL website only lists him as a reliever. Essentially, any pitcher who started a single game may be a starter. This certainly strengthens FB in my eyes, and probably moves them into the top 3.

Rounds 14-16 were all about pitching, primarily picking up relievers. Of the first 28 players taken, 14 can only be used as relievers, 8 starters, and only 6 were position players. Even three of the starters acquired were primarily relievers.

Roster/Predicted finish after Round 16 (Ranking after Round 13 in paren) with commentary on their 14-16 round picks.
1(2). SanShin - Kevin Gregg, Matt Mantei, Tim Spooneybarger. Gregg's OBP against of 278 was the lowest value for a starter (other than the reliever/starters who had not been identified yet), and Mantei has a stellar 259 OBP against. San Shin definitely continues to weigh OBP over SLG against, while I'm taking the opposite approach, so it will be interesting to compare the stats of our bullpen at year end. Spooneybarger had the top splits in a reliever (190/245/254/499) and I can't believe he lasted this long. Interesting that he is a Righty who gets lefties out MUCH better (417 OPS vs 567 OPS). Very nice pick.
2(1). SodoOhNo - Eddie Guardado, Joe Borowski, Julio Mateo. Two of the top relievers out there, gives Sodo a nice closer in Borowski and a lefty setup guy in Guardado. Guardado was the third best lefty reliever and the top two were taken just before, so Sodo closed the run on lefty relievers nicely. Mateo is a stretch with his 220/257/382/640 line. That SLG against makes me nervous and the difference between Mateo & Spooneybarger cost Sodo Oh No #1 in my book. They're that close.
3(4). Fire Bavasi - Ryan Klesko, Matt Morris, Scot Shields. Klesko's righty mashing completes a very nice 1B platoon. Shields and Morris are two of the top starting pitchers available and round out a frightening 5-man rotation with Prior, Santana, and Webb for the FB.
4(5). Cracking - Damaso Marte, Byung-Hyun Kim, Brian Jordan. Well, I beat him to Rheal Cormier (245 OPS against), so he settled for the #2 lefty reliever in Marte (270 OPS against). But got revenge by snagging Kim and his beautiful 221/288/341/629 line to probably be his staff ace. Jordan's 1131 OPS against lefties and outfield flexibility make him a fantastic addition that, of course, I hoped would fall to me next round. Cracking and I are using the same cheat sheet :-)
5(3). 116ers - Brendan Donnelly, Miguel Batista. Donnelly was the best righty reliever on the board at the time (maybe behind Ryan Wagner), but there were better options than Batista. Donnelly may act as the 116ers closer.
6(8). M.O. - Rheal Cormier, Oscar Villarreal, Ryan Wagner. The top lefty reliever in Cormier (182/245/269/514), top righty reliever in Wagner(173/284/267/551) and the top starter in Villarreal (222/306/310/616). The big risk is that Villarreal's ONLY "start" lasted only 3 innings and I don't know if Diamond Mind has a fatigue factor.
7(7). What The? - Miguel Cabrera, Latroy Hawkins, Doug Waechter. Cabrera mashes lefties (364/397/655/1052) and plays a decent 3B, but might need a platoon partner for his 739 OPS against righties. Latroy was probably the second worst reliever taken, but he's still pretty good. Waechter is a very nice starter with a 225/310/364/675 line and who can forget how he shut down the M's in September.
8(6). Musings - Darrell May, David Riske, Mike Bordick. May is solid and while his 246/290/435/725 does not look as good as some others, he does pitch in Kaufmann stadium. I need to find some ballpark-neutral splits. Riske (196/256/336/592) is a solid reliever. Bordick hits lefties to the tune of 347/441/537/978 and plays great defense at three positions, but Musings will need a platoon partner to avoid his 600 OPS against righties.
9(10). Weekly - Rafael Furcal, Vicente Padilla, Paul Quantrill. Furcal is the weakest starting shortstop in the league, but he's fast. Padilla was the worst starter taken (251/313/413/726) but is a very solid #5, and Paul Quantrill is a top reliever (227/271/290/561).
10(9). The Safe - Matthew Lecroy, Shigetoshi Hasegawa. And here is the worst reliever taken so far. Not only is Hasegawa's 235/283/337/620 line 20 points worse in OPS than anyone else, but it was also put up in one of the most pitcher-friendly parks, and should suffer further in a neutral field. Lecroy was the best catcher available, but the worst catcher that will start for any team.

Rounds 11-13
The Mariner Optimist had a plan. Load up on offense where every player in the lineup had an OPS of 900 or better. To do this would require a platoon. Looking at where we stand after 13 rounds, I'm almost there.

The more subtle part of my plan was to wait and hope that after I had acquired my offense, that my top pitching picks would still be on the board. And they would be the best pitchers in the league. Why? Because they had pitched so few innings, most people would overlook them as relievers, or worry about injuries. But this simulation is specifically set up to make anyone rated "starter" eligible to start all season long, and no injuries will occur. Will they tire quickly? Maybe, that is certainly the risk.

Unfortunately, San Shin and Sodo Oh No beat me to the punch, first grabbing Wilson Alvarez, and then a mere three picks before I was ready to strike grabbing my #2 and #3 choices in the brothers Jose - Acevedo and Contreras. So I settled for choices #4 and #5 in Tony Armas and Eric Dubose.

Roster/Predicted finish after Round 13 (previous ranking in paren) with commentary on their 11-13 round picks.
1(1). SodoOhNo - Contreras, Bagwell, Clemens. Clemens is a nice pitcher with 694 OPS against, 1.22 WHIP and great K/9, and he is Sodo's #4 starter. Bagwell fills their one hole at 1B perfectly, moving Giambi to DH where he belongs. This team is stacked, and other than catcher has no need for platoons.
2(2). SanShin - Acevedo, Jason Phillips, Jose Valverde. Its a Jose run for San Shin, who goes for the top OPS against reliever (a meager 489) as I predicted they would. Hopefully, I throw a wrench in their plans by grabbing the top OPS lefty reliever in Rheal Cormier, but I'm sure they will survive.
3(6). 116ers - Mike Piazza, Mike Sweeney, Eduardo Perez. Perez kills lefties to a 1200+ OPS and plays 4 positions so he's nice to have around and he'll probably platoon at DH with Sweeney to make a potent hitter. Piazza has been the top catcher on the board for awhile now and will remain healthy in simulation.
4(3). Fire Bavasi - Mike Cameron, Cliff Floyd, Octavio Dotel. Dotel is a great reliever (552 OPS against), but if FB was planning on starting him, they may be in trouble. Floyd moves Chipper nicely to DH and Cameron will have a lot of ground to cover to make up for being the worst offensive player taken in the draft with a 775 OPS.
5(7). Cracking - Mark Redman, Keith Foulke, Luis Castillo. Redman was a fantastic pick as the best lefty starter available and Foulke is a good closer. Castillo had some pop last year, but was caught stealing in almost half his attempts. Will be interesting to see if that is used against him.
6(5). Musings - Mike Lieberthal, Larry Walker, Kip Wells. No complaints here - a top catcher, DH and pitcher are all solid picks for Musings. Looking forward to seeing him finally pick up a shortstop.
7(8). What The? - Orlando Cabrera, Carl Everett, Guillermo Mota. Cabrera was the top SS on the board, has speed, good D and no need to platoon him. I hope the M's make a run on him next year. Everett is a nice basher in the outfield and Mota is one of the top relievers with a 552 OPS against.
8(10). M.O. - Armas and Dubose form a nice 1-2 Righty-Lefty punch in the rotation and Phil Nevin will partner with Matt Stairs to create a Bondsian platoon at 1B.
9(9). The Safe - Ray Durham, Tike Redman, Edwin Jackson. Edwin had a nice 669 OPS against but the others fail to impress enough to move the Safe up.
10(4). Weekly - Aaron Boone, A.J. Pierzynski, Mark Grudzielanek. A team that looked great three rounds ago looks a lot less formidable. As opposed to outfielders ManRam and JuanGone, these infielders can field, but they are the worst hitting infielders in the league at this point. But all three still hit better than Cameron.

Round 10
Team - Actual Pick (my guess) - commentary
Fire Bavasi - Craig Wilson (Craig Wilson) - got one, and I think this is a nice pickup for F.B.
Mariners Weekly - Andruw Jones(Jay Payton) - Jones is probably better than Payton, but I wonder if Podsednik is not better than both. Either way MW needs to make his pick quicker as this one took about 18 hours.
Mariners Musings - C.C. Sabathia (Mike Piazza) - steals the top VORP starting pitcher from San Shin. Good to know someone is reading this :-)
Mariner Optimist - Bobby Abreu(Bobby Abreu) - will this guy ever take a starting pitcher? The lineup will have no weak spots from top to bottom.
Cracking The Safe - Jason Kendall(Keith Foulke) - I meant, starting a catcher run, but why Kendall - there are several catchers with better EqA, OPS..
Sodo Oh No - Greg Myers (Matt Mantei). Catcher run/Closer run, what's the difference? Best catcher out there against righties but needs platoon-mate.
San Shin - Edgar Martinez (C.C. Sabathia) - I like that Edgar guy - thought he would go to the Safe in round 11.
What the? - Placido Polanco (Rafael Furcal) - positional flexibility with similar OPS as Furcal.
116 - Scott Podsednik (Eddie Guardado) - Finally, someone has been reading my picks, but this team needs
The Safe - Jay Payton (Jay Payton) - Hmm.. I had Payton going twice in this round but only once I was wrong. We'll see how he translates outside Coors.

Roster/Predicted finish after Round 10:
1. SodoOhNo(SS ARod, CF Edmonds, SP Schilling, RF Hidalgo, LF Gonzalez, 3B Ensberg, 1B Giambi, 2B Kent, SP Alvarez, C Myers) - 2 pitcher
2. SanShin (RF Bonds, SP Schmidt, SS Mora, LF B.Giles, RF Ordonez, 2B Soriano, 3B Lowell, SP Zito, 1B NJohnson, DH Edgar) - 1 pitcher
3. Fire Bavasi (SP Prior, RF Vlad, 3B Rolen, SP Santana, SS Jeter, 2B Vidro, C Varitek, SP Webb, LF Chipper, 1B CWilson) - 3 pitchers
4. Weekly (LF Manny, SP Pedro, 1B Thome, SP Vazquez, RP Wagner, DH Ortiz, SP Oswalt, RF JuanGone, SP Zambrano, CF AJones) - 4 pitchers + closer
5. Musings (RF Sheffield, 2B Boone, CF Wells, 1B/DH Thomas, 3B Chavez, SP Mulder, SP Wood, LF Drew, RP Rivera, SP Sabathia) - 2 pitchers + closer
6. 116ers (1B Pujols, SP Hudson, 3B Mueller, SS Nomar, SP Beckett, RF Sosa, LF Jenkins, 3B Loretta, SP Livan, CF Podsednik) - 3 pitchers
7. Cracking (1B Delgado, SP Halladay, SS Renteria, RF Huff, CF Anderson, LF/RF Sanders, CF Bradley, 1B Sexson, SP Nomo, C Kendall) - 2 pitchers
8. What The? (1B Helton, SP Loaiza, RP Gagne, SP Mussina, LF/CF Berkman, 1B/3B/LF DYoung, C IRod, CF PWilson, SP Colon, 2B/3B Polanco) - 3 starters + closer
9. The Safe (RF Ichiro, RF Nixon, SP Brown, SP Moyer, SS Tejada, 1B/2B Blalock, RP Soriano, 1B DLee, SP Willis, OF Payton) - 3 starters + closer
10. M.O. (C Lopez, DH Posada, 2B M.Giles, CF Beltran, RP Smoltz, LF/RF Guillen, SS/3B/2B Cintron, 1B/LF/RF Stairs, 3B Koskie, RF Abreu) - closer

Round 9

Team - Actual Pick (my guess) - commentary
The Safe - Dontrelle Willis(Carlos Zambrano) - Willis may have been the best lefty out there after Alvarez.
116 - Livan Hernandez(Scott Podsednik) - Admittedly my guess was a throwaway - and 116 probably saw that WTTH was gonna take Livan, so he scooped him up.
What the? - Bartolo Colon(Livan Hernandez) - Livan was gone, so went for next best WHIP out there in Colon.
San Shin - Nick Johnson(Mike Piazza) - Catchers get no love here, and Jeff scoops up the top 1B against RHP. Nice pick.
Sodo Oh No - Wilson Alvarez(Greg Myers) - May be the best pitcher in the league, depending on how Diamond Mind handles fact he only pitched 95 innings - 2.37 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. Very nice.
Cracking The Safe - Hideo Nomo(Placido Polanco) - Its officially a pitcher run!
Mariner Optimist - Corey Koskie(Chipper Jones) - Couldn't grab Chipper when there are still lots of OF, but the drop off against RHP between Koskie and #2 Aaron Boone was 147 OPS points.
Mariners Musings - Mariano Rivera(Orlando Cabrera) - We have our fourth closer.
Mariners Weekly - Carlos Zambrano(Jay Payton) - back to the pitcher run. Pitchers? Who needs em?
Fire Bavasi - Chipper Jones(Cliff Floyd) - I guess I'll end up with Floyd in a round or two...

Roster/Predicted finish after Round 9:
1. SodoOhNo - Wilson freakin Alvarez for MBSBL Cy Young?
2. SanShin - May need a platoon-mate for Nick Johnson at 1B.
3. Fire Bavasi - Chipper has no glove, but a great bat for round 9.
4. 116ers - Livan had a helluva season last year.
5. Weekly - Zambrano had worst WHIP of the 6 starters taken this round.
6. Musings - Mariano a damn nice closer.
7. Cracking - Nomo best ERA of the 6 starters taken this round.
8. M.O. - Koskie continues strong offense
9. The Safe - Don't like Willis over some of the other pitchers here.
10. What The? - No harm in adding Colon

Round 8

Team - Actual Pick (my guess) - commentary
Fire Bavasi - Brandon Webb (Brandon Webb) - best pitcher out there. Great pick.
Mariners Weekly - Juan Gonzalez (Matt Stairs) - Fields like Stairs without the errors, hits lefties & righties
Mariners Musings - J.D. Drew(Bartolo Colon). A healthy J.D. Drew for a year... I think that even with injuries off, Drew will pull a hammy...
Mariner Optimist - Matt Stairs(Chipper Jones). Great OPS, but only hits lefties. Looking for platoon-mate.
Cracking The Safe - Richie Sexson(Jeff Kent). Gets a DH when he need a 2B. Odd pick.
Sodo Oh No - Jeff Kent(Mike Piazza). Thrilled to have Kent fall into his lap, and it moves them into favorite role.
San Shin - Barry Zito(Richie Sexson). Sexson gone, so gets the best lefty available.
What the? - Preston Wilson(Larry Walker). Right team, wrong player, and this team still needs a RF.
116 - Mark Loretta(Preston Wilson). Preston & Kent gone, go for the best 2B on the board.
The Safe - Derrek Lee(Scott Podsednik). Picked up speed and a first baseman they needed who is also an awesome fielder. Nice pick.

Roster/Predicted finish after Round 8:
1. SodoOhNo - Kent pick rounds out stellar hitting infield of ARod, Kent, Giambi
2. SanShin - Schmidt and Zito anchor staff.
3. Fire Bavasi - Webb may be the staff ace.
4. Weekly - chemistry issues with Juan Gone and Man Ram in same outfield
5. Musings - Wells, Drew, Sheffield a solid OF.
6. 116ers (1B Pujols, SP Hudson, 3B Mueller, SS Nomar, SP Beckett, RF Sosa, LF Jenkins) - 2 pitchers
7. Cracking - Sexson a big bat, but will regret not picking up Kent.
8. The Safe - since Ichiro, nothing but nice picks so time to start moving them up.
9. M.O. - will need platoon-mate for Stairs to work this out
10. What The? - Left and Center fielders galore...

Rounds 5-7
Wow, what a weekend - a Friday Night beer buzz leads to me picking up John Smoltz as my closer when I could not decide on the next hitter to take, and a Saturday/Sunday of pink eye hitting my family leads to no blogging over the weekend. In case you missed it, Mike at San Shin has posted the following updated FAQ about the rules. After the Smoltz mistake, I went for some positional flexibility grabbing top-hitting outfielder Jose Guillen, who also rates a 4 (out of 5) in both left field and right fields. Then, in Round 7, I picked up Alex Cintron who was the top OPS SS or 3B and can play both, as well as 2B.

Most everybody is feeling good about their teams right now. I have to get a 1B, SS/3B and LF/RF and fill my pitching staff at this point. San Shin continues to get the best value per pick, but the simulation aspect means that The Safe may have grabbed the best closer in Rafael Soriano, and Johan Santana should be a stud for Fire Bavasi. Milton Bradley and Morgan Ensberg are other relative unknowns that look like good picks given that their reduced playing time in 2003 will not reoccur in simulation.

I feel like mixing things up a bit so I'm gonna punish the 116'ers for picking Josh Beckett and move myself up a bit. I'd rather have most other teams for their 2004 possibilities, but I like mine for 2003.

Roster/Predicted finish after Round 7:
1. SanShin (RF Bonds, SP Schmidt, SS Mora, LF B.Giles, RF Ordonez, 2B Soriano, 3B Lowell) - 1 pitcher
2. SodoOhNo(SS ARod, CF Edmonds, SP Schilling, RF Hidalgo, LF Gonzalez, 3B Ensberg, 1B Giambi) - 1 pitcher
3. Weekly (RF Manny, SP Pedro, 1B Thome, SP Vazquez, RP Wagner, DH Ortiz, SP Oswalt) - 3 pitchers
4. Fire Bavasi (SP Prior, RF Vlad, 3B Rolen, SP Santana, SS Jeter, 2B Vidro, C Varitek) - 2 pitchers
5. Musings (RF Sheffield, 2B Boone, CF Wells, 1B/DH Thomas, 3B Chavez, SP Mulder, SP Wood) - 2 pitchers
6. M.O. (C Lopez, DH Posada, 2B M.Giles, CF Beltran, RP Smoltz, LF/RF Guillen, SS/3B/2B Cintron) - 1 closer
7. 116ers (1B Pujols, SP Hudson, 3B Mueller, SS Nomar, SP Beckett, RF Sosa, LF Jenkins) - 2 pitchers
8. Cracking (1B Delgado, SP Halladay, SS Renteria, RF Huff, CF Anderson, LF/RF Sanders, CF Bradley) - 1 pitcher
9. What The? (1B Helton, SP Loaiza, RP Gagne, SP Mussina, LF/CF Berkman, 1B/3B/LF DYoung, C IRod) - 2 starters + closer
10. The Safe (RF Ichiro, RF Nixon, SP Brown, SP Moyer, SS Tejada, 1B/2B Blalock, RP Soriano) - 2 starters + closer

Round 4
Four pitchers, three outfielders, Nomar, Aubrey Huff, and Frank Thomas. All of the position players, with the exception of Huff were the player I had rated highest at their position when they were picked. Huff has the advantage of playing three positions, 1B, 3B, RF. San Shin continues to impress, grabbing the best player on the board for the third time in four rounds (with the exception of Mora). It may have been early for Hidalgo, so I'm knocking Sodo down a notch. I like the Johan Santana pickup by Fire Bavasi.

I predict San Shin picks up Magglio Ordonez because that's who I want next.

Mariner Musings and I remain firmly off the pitching bandwagon.

Roster/Predicted finish after Round 4:
1. SanShin (RF Bonds, SP Schmidt, SS Mora, LF B.Giles)
2. SodoOhNo(SS ARod, CF Edmonds, SP Schilling, RF Hidalgo)
3. 116ers (1B Pujols, SP Hudson, 3B Mueller, SS Nomar)
4. Fire Bavasi (SP Prior, RF Vlad, 3B Rolen, SP Santana)
5. Weekly (RF Manny, SP Pedro, 1B Thome, SP Vazquez)
6. Musings (RF Sheffield, 2B Boone, CF Wells, 1B/DH Thomas)
7. What The? (1B Helton, SP Loaiza, RP Gagne, SP Mussina)
8. M.O. (C Lopez, DH Posada, 2B M.Giles, CF Beltran)
9. Cracking (1B Delgado, SP Halladay, SS Renteria, RF Huff)
10. The Safe (RF Ichiro, DH Nixon, SP Brown, SP Moyer)

Round 3
The first closer is taken in Eric Gagne, as the 23rd pick overall by What the Hell. I can't argue with the pick because I don't know whether pitching or hitting will win out in these simulations (does good pitching beat good hitting?), and it is their second pitcher. But I still have a problem using my 3rd round pick on a guy who won't pitch more than 70 innings. I also have a problem with closers making $8M per season, too, so that's just me.

Melvin Mora had the second lowest OPS of any hitter taken in the round, but his positional flexibility covering 2B, SS, LF, and CF may be very valuable in this league. With only 25 players, and having to cover injuries, flexibility may be critical. Mariner Musings and I remain the only two teams without a pitcher, so we continue to work from the same playbook (if Marcus Giles, had been taken, I would have grabbed his Vernon Wells).

I probably should have taken Scott Rolen over Giles, as Rolen was by far the best 3B hitter and fielder. I hoped that he would return to be, but unfortunately, Fire Bavasi beat me to the punch. Now, 3B slides down in priority as the next bunch of players at 3B have similar abilities.

Predicted Standings after Round Three: 1. SanShin, 2. SodoOhNo, 3. 116ers, 4. Musings, 5. What The?, 6. Fire Bavasi, 7. Weekly, 8. Cracking, 9. M.O. , 10. The Safe

Round 2

Damn, Peter White and I must use the same cheatsheet, as I was wanting to pick Bret Boone, but he snatched him before me. I'm about to do something silly, but the website is down for the moment giving me time to reconsider. I'm about to claim Jorge Posada as my second catcher, knowing I'll have the only two catchers with OPS over 900 on my team, I'll do what the Orioles considered doing, rotating them between catcher and DH.

What the heck?!?

Yup, I did it. I will be the only owner with a silly strategy like cornering the catcher market in the first two rounds.

Pitchers start to go in the second round with Pedro Martinez, Roy Halladay, Jason Schmidt, Esteban Loaiza, and Tim Hudson going in that order. You can't argue too much with any of these selections, but I would have taken Hudson or Kevin Brown as my first pitcher (Brown goes early in 3rd round to The Safe who begins to redeem himself nicely). I'm not sure how pitcher health is gonna factor into this season. Will Pedro again only pitch 180 innings, or might he go longer? Or shorter? Hard to know for sure and that weighs heavily on deciding between Halladay (266 IP, 3.25 ERA, 1.07 WHIP) and say, Pedro (186, 2.23, 1.03).

The other three picks were outfielders - Vladamir Guerrero, Jim Edmonds, and The Safe finishing the round with Trot Nixon. I would not have picked Nixon this early, and The Safe now has two rightfielders, so maybe they are cornering the market in RF as I did at C. Four RF's are gone (Sheffield, Vlad, Ichiro, and Nixon), so this may put pressure on teams to grab a RF early. I don't know if Diamond Mind will allow these guys to be moved to LF or CF and if so, what the effect on their fielding will be. Otherwise, The Safe has got their DH early. Anyone with answers, add your comments below!

Round 1
The Mariners Blogsphere Simulated Baseball League draft has begun. You can see the draft unfold at its current glacial pace by clicking on the link. I'm going to comment on my picks and those of others here. Click on the link on the right to get back to this post where it will be updated as it continues. And please feel free to add comments to this blog entry to discuss what you would have done differently.

First, remember that a player's performance in 2003 will determine how that player performs in this Diamond Mind league. There is no need for projections. This is about building the best team knowing exactly how your players will perform.

With that knowledge, it is stunning that Ichiro Suzuki was the first pick by The Safe. Now Ichiro is a nice player and his defensive rating in RF of 5e36 (format is XeY where X is a range factor from 1-5 and Y is the percentage of an average player that errors occur, so the lower the better). But with a 2003 OPS of 783, he is shaky as the man to build your team around.

The first round had several other surprises. Barry Bonds, and his obscene 1271 OPS slid all the way to 4th where San Shin smiled and said 'Thank you very much.' This allowed the 2003 AL MVP, Alex Rodriguez, to go to the host Sodo Oh No squad. This happened because Albert Pujols went 2nd and Todd Helton went 3rd to the Onesixteeners and What the Hell Happened respectively. Hard to argue with either pick on its own except when Barry Bonds is available.

Mark Prior was the only pitcher taken in the first round, going as the 10th pick to Fire Bavasi. If I'm building a team, I've got to get a few hitters before I go after a pitcher unless they are far and above the rest of the crowd. Prior is nice, but its hard to differentiate him from other top pitchers like Pedro, Brown, Schmidt, etc... Because this is a snake draft, and the 10th pick in one round is the first pick in the next, I might have considered starting a pitching run and grabbing two pitchers. We'll see if The Safe has those thoughts when it gets back to him.

Your Mariner Optimist was considering Gary Sheffield (who was picked right after my pick by Mariner Musings), but eventually decided to go with positional scarcity at catcher and took Javy Lopez and his 1067 OPS. Jorge Posado is the next best hitting catcher with an OPS of 915, so the differential was more substantial than Sheffield vs other outfielders. I was concerned with taking a catcher when they get 100-150 fewer plate appearances than other positions. We're hoping that in a DH league, we can give Lopez extra at bats in the DH slot. Like many of the owners, I'm hindered by my lack of knowledge as to how Diamond Mind works, but I think this will be possible.

Predicted Standings after Round One: 1. SanShin, 2. SodoOhNo, 3. 116ers, 4. What The?, 5. M.O., 6. Musings, 7. Weekly, 8. Cracking, 9. Fire Bavasi, 10. The Safe

Rice Owls Big Three 

Two great articles on the Rice triumvarate of Jeff Niemann (17-0, 1.70 ERA in 2003), Wade Townsend (11-2, 2.20), and Philip Humber (11-3, 3.30) as they aspire to the claim of greatest college pitching trio of all time.

Baseball America publishes an article from Brian McTaggert, who covers the Owls for the Houston chronicle. This tells each player's story, and includes snippets from interviews with all three and Coach Wayne Graham.

The three are projected to be first round picks after this season, and all three could go in the Top 5!

“It’s pretty exciting for all of us,” Humber says. “Not just the draft part of it, but we do want to be the greatest rotation in the history of college baseball. I felt like all four of us (including junior righthander Josh Baker, who went 8-0) want to do that, and it’s something we can achieve. I don’t think we’ve achieved it yet.”

But if they come anywhere close to the numbers they posted last year, it would be hard to deny them. Niemann went 17-0, 1.70 with 156 strikeouts in 119 innings. Townsend was 11-2, 2.20 with five saves and 164 strikeouts in 137 innings. Humber went 11-3, 3.30 with 138 strikeouts in 128 innings.

“Last year was a good year, but we all learned from last year and all have grown,” Niemann says. “Hopefully we can perform at a high level this year. To the outside that might be crazy, but we’re all learning and constantly trying to get better. We want to build on last year.”

Thomas Ayers at BallparkAnalysis.com saw the article and wrote "The New Big Three", which compares the Rice trio to other successful college pitching trios, and to examine how the trio might fare in the major leagues. It is not the most thorough article in the world, but its interesting to see the stats of the Rice three next to others that were considered great. Ayers concludes his article with...

First of all, I know there is no such thing as a pitching prospect, and that predicting pitchers is a high-risk activity, but I was still suprised to see some of the huge failure rates, especially when you have multiple pitchers involved. I know this selection is somewhat biased by the fact we are looking at great pitching trios, and not individual pitchers themselves, but still I was suprised to see only 8 of 33 (if we discount the 3 from the 2000 South Carolina class) managed to finish their careers with adjusted ERAs better than the league average. If you define that as "success", then even some of the best college pitching tandems have a success rate below 25%. Also, 10 of the 33 had adjusted ERAs below 50 or never pitched in the majors, which you could certainly define as an outright failure.

Obviously, Clemens is the best pitcher of the 33 looked at, and is the only one to reach a consistant all-star status. However, if you want to look at a class that is balanced throughout in which all members acheived success, than the 1968 Trojans, who I wasn't even overly impressed with when I first looked at them, are probably the best of the bunch. Well, possbily the 1989 Louisiana State group is the best, depending on how much weight you want to give to longevity. I know I'm going to extremely simply things here but you are basically debating between 4,000 innnings of 106 ERA+ or 2,000 innings of 116 ERA+. These are definately the two most balanced classes, and I'd argue in favour of the Louisiana State one, come to think about it, trusting my ability to find average, or near-average, pitching through cheap means.

It's tough to say what the future holds for the Rice Trio. I can't tell you what they need to do to become the best college pitching trip ever, as I don't follow college baseball enough to know different divisions and schedules, and I think that would have to be considered in one's evaluation to some degree. Based on the stats here, and all the pitchers should improve, or at least stay the same, they are better than, or match up equally well, to any of the trios listed. I do encourage you, if you are in the area, to go take a look at any of these three pitchers. I'd certainly jump at the chance. I do think that all three will be drafted in the first round, and the first half of the first round if they all have reasonably successful years, and will become the first set of three pitcher college teammates to do that.

Looking at the above it seems improbable that all three will go onto successful careers in the major leagues, but its quite possible that they all will at least get a cup of coffee in the major leagues, barring injury. I don't forsee them becoming the Trojans of 1978, and I think at least one, and I might guess two, of them will go onto have a successful big league careers, but I couldn't tell you which one at this point. A large part of determing that probably lies with projectability and mechanics, neither of which I have immediate access to, nor great knowledge of. That decision is what people getting paid a lot more money than me, and with more time on their hands, have as their job. And hey, I was really high on Bobby Bradley a few years ago, so what do I know?

In other words, enjoy watching these three while you can. They may not end up major leaguers, but they may put in a second dominating season for your defending NCAA Champion Rice Owls!

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Owls Regain Share of WAC Lead 

The Super Bowl is in town and the Owls were motivated. They picked off 16 passes, returning them for 5 touchdowns (35 pts) and held on through a slow second half to steal a 76-73 win from Hawaii. The win puts the Owls (15-5) into a tie with Fresno St (10-7) and the Rainbows (14-4) atop the WAC with a 6-2 conference record, and Nevada trails the three by one game at 5-3.

Pudgeless in Seattle 

Bob Finnigan breaks the news that Pudge Rodriguez will not be a Mariner.

That is not surprising. What is silly is all the discussion about the Mariners budget in this article, and how they didn't have $9.5M to spend, but rather $7M and if you take this out and that out and blah blah blah.

I don't know if this is Finnigan's work or something the M's want published, but both should just shut up. It makes my job hard as the Mariner Optimist to promote that the team wants to win, when they make it sound like they didn't make a $10M, 1yr contract offer at least to a potential difference-maker.

Oh well, I will have to admit that I've had mixed feelings about the whole Pudge thing. I have always stated that 4yr/$40M is way too much for him, but even at 2yr/$20M, I was concerned on the effect that signing would have on the M's. I think catcher must be the least understood position on the field in terms of knowing what effect a catcher has on a pitching staff, and to a lesser extent on the opponents running game.

Add in the fact that catchers have historically broken down as hitters at about this point in their careers, and it was certainly a risky signing.

I would have endorsed signing Pudge, but part of me is happy to wait for something better to come along, hopefully in the form of trade. If we are not going to upgrade at catcher, than the best places to upgrade will be centerfield and/or a platoon partner for John Olerud at 1B.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Fan Links added 

In the spirit of fun in which this blog is intended, take a walk through some of the fan page links that have been added. If you would like more (or ones that have not been updated for years for a walk down memory lane), let me know and I'll add them.

Inside Scoop from Detroit 

Justin Spiro, the editor-in-chief of DetroitSports.net, who wrote a story last Friday saying that Pudge to Seattle was a done deal, does a Q&A for the folks at InsideThePark.com

In this interview he reaffirms his faith in his source and his belief that Pudge is going to the M's, though this interview occurred before this Associated Press story that indicates that Pudge will sign with the Tigers as soon as Friday.

He also provides a Detroit perspective on the Mariners, and these tidbits on the M's half of the Carlos Guillen trade.

On Ramon Santiago - "He is a good kid, but that doesn’t translate into production. He was forced into a bad situation last year with the lowly state of the Tigers. Santiago showed flashes of spectacular defense in 2003, but his bat was just too weak even for Detroit. Given a year or two to mature with a winning team like Seattle should work to his advantage."

On Juan Gonzalez - "Even the top scouts don’t have much to report on this guy. From what I have heard, he is an extremely raw talent with decent upside. His defense appears adequate. In 453 at-bats at Single-A last season, he only managed a .249 average. His power numbers are weak too - 4 homers and 39 RBI. Gonzalez did swipe 24 bases in 2003 at West Michigan, perhaps the only positive sign for his future. "

The more I read, the more I hope that Santiago starts the year in the minors, though I have no idea if he has options left. Seems like he could use full-time at bats rather than being a bench presence. Hopefully, he will be the man sent down when we pick up Eric Karros, official Bench Masher of Lefties of the Mariner Optimist.

The Ultimate Team Player 

Sons of Buhner is rapidly becoming one of my favorite Mariners blogs to read, having twice caused me to laugh out loud in the past 24 hours. If you haven't bookmarked it yet, I highly recommend it.

In their latest piece, they examine the story of Indians minor league pitcher Kazuhito Tadano, who has claimed he is a heterosexual that took part in gay porn films because he and his college teammates were short on cash. Sons of Buhner sagely recognizes this level of sacrifice and writes on why the M's should acquire this is ultimate team player:

Every stat-hungry, incentive-driven hitter would step to the plate and think, "You know, if that guy can do a gay porn film for his team, the least I can do is put down a decent sacrifice bunt."

Earlier this week, they reported on their hope that Norm Charlton's latest comeback attempt results in the spectacle of having his arm literally drop off at the elbow during his first pitch for the M's:

The greatest part of all, of course, would not be the actual separation of arm from elbow; no, the great part would likely be Norm's cool, measured reaction, which I imagine would be Norm standing at the front of the mound, remaining hand on hip, staring at his departed forearm and muttering, "Well, shoot."

If you find this musing to be a little to close to the 1989 shuddering spectacle of Dave Dravecky breaking his arm in his second start back from cancer treatment, don't worry this has a happy ending as well. (Well you can judge the ending of Dravecky, who broke his arm yet again during an October playoff celebration before retiring from baseball. The cancer returned and his arm was amputated two years later, but Dravecky is now one of the country's most inspiring motivational speakers).

Sons of Buhner shows that they understand Norm Charlton as they follow up with:

If Norm's left arm falls off, I'm putting ten bucks right now on an attempted comeback with the right one.

And though we choose to disagree on the relative merits of the signings of the Mariners, Padres and Royals, I wholeheartedly endorse Sons of Buhner as a great read for baseball fans everywhere. Heck, I'm going to "promote" them, along with Mariners Wheelhouse, to the label of "Cranky Internet Columnists whom I love." Keep up the great work, oh balding ones.

Sheffield to the Hot Corner? 

Wow - this move would suddenly give the Yankees the top hitting 3B in baseball. And who needs infield defense anyway?

Updated 1/29 to add a link to Aaron Gleeman's thoughts on the Yankees Infield of Doom, and how it will be interesting to see Kevin Brown, an extreme groundball pitcher, go from an infield defense that is very good, to one that is very, very bad.

M's Contemplate How to Spend Found Money 

Mariners GM Bill Bavasi had a press conference yesterday about the release of Kazuhiro Sasaki, and how the M's will spend the $9.5M that this frees up. Bavasi said some interesting things, most of which are just what I wanted to hear. I have collected quotes from three stories and will provide the quotes and my interpretation. The articles are from Tribnet's Larry Larue, MLB's Jim Street, and the HeraldNet's Kirby Arnold.

The short take is that the M's will try their best to spend the money before Spring training, will make a short-term contract offer to Ivan Rodriguez, will look for a second lefty for the bullpen, are going to evaluate EVERYONE on the market including Greg Maddux, and would prefer free agent signings to trades.

Here's Bill Bavasi...

We'll spend the cash before Spring Training - "It gives us more financial flexibility, but I don't think it's right to spend just to spend, but it's real likely a lot of it is going to be taken care of. We will use some of this. If we don't, it won't be for lack of trying."

First order of business with the cash - "Right now, I'd probably try to fill the second left-hander in the bullpen, then explore helping the offense. Kaz left a significant hole in our bullpen."

Lets hope Pudge wants quality of life over length of contract - "Pudge is a good name and I'm not saying he isn't a good player, but he has to have the 'right' number in mind. We have an interest in him on a short-term basis."

Positioning M's as unlikely to offer Pudge 3, 4, or 5-year contract - "We have interest in him on a short-term basis. Our opinion, and we could be wrong, is that the most success he's had in his career has been in short-term bursts. When he's been given a contract that is structured such that he has another opportunity in a year or two, he's performed tremendously."

Don't get your hopes up on Pudge, M's fans, but we're trying - "We'll just have to see what kind of deals he's had out there and how late we are. If he's gone down the road a long way with a club or two, we're going to be at a disadvantage."

Unchanged philosophy of avoiding all eggs in one basket - "Our view has really opened, and to say we're focused on one guy might not be accurate right now. We have to continue to maintain a balanced club."

Greg Maddux is a slim possibility if able to trade a starter for quality return simultaneously - "If other offers were made for the starters that we could time it all right, I wouldn't say no. To move one of them to bring on a veteran pitcher and extend the kind of money it's going to take to secure him, we'd have to get some real quality back for one of those young starters."

Carlos Beltran (or any other) trade unlikely when free agents still available - "We would prefer not to give up kids in trades if we can answer the same issues with free agents."

We'll take a fresh look at the free agent market - "When you look at what's out there, you at least try to look at the veteran player that's available and quantify what he can do for you. We have to look at everything that's available, including the premier names that are out there."

What would the M's have done if they wanted to keep Sasaki - "I don't know what our recourse would have been, and I'm proud to say I don't know because I didn't look into it. We weren't going to do that to the guy, anyway. This worked out perfectly for the player and the club."

Kaz will be missed - "One thing we can't overlook is that this guy was a significant contributor and was expected to be a significant contributor. While Kaz might not have a year last year that was at the top of his game, this guy just a few moments ago left a significant hole in our bullpen and we have to be aware of that. We have to fill it."

Timing of Sasaki departure could have been better - "With Kaz leaving and us not finding out about it until three weeks ago, it knocks you out of your gyro a little bit and now we have to adjust to that.

So what can we expect to see...
A 2 year contract offer to Ivan Rodriguez. My guess is big signing bonus, small 2004 number, big 2005 number and a 2006 option that vests with 2005 plate appearances or some other incentive. Say $6M signing bonus, $3M 2004, $10M 2005, $11M/$1M 2006 that is automatic with 500 PAs in 2005. Minimum worth of 2yr/$20M, maximum worth of 3yr/$30M, and by using signing bonus we get a lower number in 2004 so we still have some money to strengthen bullpen and maybe add a bat off the bench.

Lefty setup guy is going to be hard to find. Mark Guthrie and Terry Mulholland do not inspire much confidence. So is there a trade for a lefty setup guy out there - maybe we can acquire a setup guy in a trade for a 27-year-old catcher?

I'm hoping we'll pickup a bat for the bench out of the mix of Ron Coomer, Andres Galarraga, Eric Karros, Travis Lee, Fred McGriff, Raul Mondesi, Troy O'Leary, and Todd Zeile. My preference would be Eric Karros because he mashes lefties (986 OPS last year), should come cheaply, and he gives entertaining interviews (and puts up with nickname of "Fabio") on the Jim Rome show.

I hope we avoid thinking much about Ugueth Urbina, but someone had to say it. Urbina is an excellent closer, and that would put Eddie Guardado back in a setup role, which may tick off Eddie. Or he could be the setup guy as he actually handled lefties better than righties last year (572 vs 707 OPS against). I will admit that this would again give us the most dominant bullpen in baseball, and would hopefully free up Rafael Soriano to head to the rotation, but it seems like spending money on a problem that doesn't exist.

The game is now afoot...

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Blog Rumors 

Kazuhiro Sasaki has been waived and will never pitch in MLB again, and the bloggers are circling to guess how Bavasi and company will spend this new windfall. USS Mariner is of two minds on the subject (but I wanted to thank them here for adding Mariner Optimist to their M's blogosphere links). Much conjecture is around acquiring Ivan Rodriguez, and trading Ben Davis to make room.

Wondering who we might deal Ben Davis to? PhilliesInsider.com has a column, "Thinking Out Loud" that describes what a good fit Big Ben would be for the Phillies. It is a long article, with four or five paragraphs on this conjecture:

Although the Phils have not openly announced that they are looking to trade either (Jason) Michaels or (Chase) Utley, they have casually mentioned the possibility. It was even speculated that the Phils might dangle the pair in hopes of acquiring a solid young catcher to back up and someday replace the veteran Mike Lieberthal.

This was an interesting revelation, especially with word out of Seattle that the Mariners might be close to signing World Series hero, Pudge Rodgriguez, to a free agent contract. The Mariners have made no secret of their interest in Pudge, but acknowledge that they would first have to trade one of their two catchers, veteran Dan Wilson or youngster Ben Davis.

The mention of Davis might bring forth more than a passing interest among Phillie officials. Only 27 years of age, Davis is a local player, with roots to Philadelphia, and a solid lefty bat to support Lieberthal. It does not take a vivid imagination to picture the Phils potential interest in Davis, given the dirth of catching prospects in the organization, and Davis’s potential long-term future as a Phil.

Would a Jason Michaels, or Chase Utley be enough to interest the Mariners in a trade? Perhaps. Davis has a contract for 1.4 million dollars this year, and a Michaels/Utley duo might be enough to entice the Mariners to say yes. Would the Phils be interested? While difficult to say, they seem to be going out of their way to indicate that Michaels and Utley are far from guaranteed employment in Philadelphia this year.

Add to this conjecture the fact that Arbuckle said that it was “highly unlikely” that either Michaels or Utley would be sent to the minors, and a Davis for Michaels/Utley trade makes perfect sense. Stay tuned.

Stay tuned, indeed.

Aaron Boone Gone For the Year 

The man who almost cost the Mariners Freddy Garcia, Rett Johnson, and $1.25M cash at last year's trade deadline, is gone for 2004 thanks to a torn ACL suffered in a pickup basketball game. Ouch.

The injury will not only cost the ALCS Game 7 Hero his season, but it may cost him most of his 1 year, $5.75M contract as well.

"Concerning his contract, I can confirm that there are certain prohibited activities, which include basketball," Cashman said. Boone is eligible for free agency after next season, and if the Yankees successfully converted the deal to a nonguaranteed contract, they could release him and be responsible for only 30 days' termination pay, $917,553, instead of the full salary, which is paid over a 188-day season.

The rumor mills are swirling as to who will replace Boone the Lesser. The Yankees do not have a backup third baseman with full-time major league experience. Enrique Wilson and newly signed Miguel Cairo are options to fill the spot, as is minor leaguer Drew Henson.

But this is New York. Steinbrenner. Big money. No budget. Surely, Steinbrenner won't allow Enrique Wilson to be the starting third basemen. So what's a man with a bottomless wallet to do?

Jeff Cirillo. Unlikely. If the man can't handle the pressure of Seattle, I believe Mr. Furious would go postal in New York.

Pudge Rodriguez. Scott Boras' wet dream comes in the form of some rumor-mongering that Pudge could play 3B. David Pinto at Baseball Musings explores this possibility.

Derek Jeter moves from SS - his defense is in decline from heights that were not that high, so 3B becomes a possibility.

Fernando Tatis? Mark McLemore? Graig Nettles?

Update 10:52am PST with this excert from NY Daily News which takes on the same question...

With Aaron Boone possibly lost for the season, the Yanks have limited options at third base. Here's a list of contenders.

Jose Hernandez: Most recognizable free agent available, but swings at more pitches than Alfonso Soriano.

Mark McLemore: No bat (two homers last year) but a decent glove. Made two errors in 29 games at third last season.

Miguel Cairo: The prototypical utility infielder, he's played just 19 games at third in the past two years.

Enrique Wilson: If Yanks face Pedro Martinez every game, then he's a perfect fit. Has played in 123 games since 2002.

Jay Bell: Former Met is retired and looking toward a managing career, but could be lured back to Big Apple.

Drew Henson: Drew Henson: Yanks got Boone so they wouldn't have to answer questions about Henson anymore.

Erick Almonte: Filled in at short for Derek Jeter last year, but has said he thinks he's got a better shot at making it at third.

Victims of Our Own Success 

One of the things people forget when watching the machinations of the Mariners Front Office is what a good team we already have. This makes it harder to improve the Mariners than it is to improve the Detroit Tigers or the San Diego Padres.

The Sons of Buhner lauds Padres GM Kevin Towers for his moves to rebuild the Petco kids and soon will do a similar piece on how the Royals had a much better offseason than the Mariners. Whether we agree or disagree on a particular move, I think we can agree that the Royals and Padres had much more room for improvement than the M's.

The M's blogosphere can be a tricky place. The Padres get kudos for finding Phil Nevin off the scrapheap, but when the M's find Bret Boone, it is regarded as luck. Steve at Mariners Wheelhouse sent me an email in respone to my entry, Scott Spiezio... The Next Bret Boone that said:

I also would not give the Mariners "credit" for finding Boone. Gillick had no expectation that Boone would do what he did in 2001. Gillick was just hoping to add a bit of power at second base, and Boone was available and cheap.

Yet, who had Bret Boone right under their very nose? That's right - the Padres and GM Kevin Towers. And Towers tried his hardest to turn Cirillo and Ramon Hernandez into Jason Kendall and his Contract of Doom before ownership nixed the deal. $40M for a singles hitting catcher? Shades of Guillen for Vizquel without the hue and cry.

Bavasi and company had a wishlist of improvements to make this offseason, they may not have made the moves you like, but they did make improvements.
Fortunately, the amount of improvement one can make on an excellent team is not as large as the amount you can make on a bad team.

Bavasi had a plan, and while the execution was not perfect, the M's are a better team heading into 2004 than they were heading into 2003.

1) Add outfield pop - Maybe the organization should have lavished more love on Cameron, but the fact was he couldn't hit at Safeco. Its best for him to leave, and better that we make it easy. The best bats (Vlad, Sheffield) were unlikely to sign in Seattle unless we paid over market rates (which were already very high). So, M's brass decided to go for a former Mariner with good character and who was coming off two straight big seasons. Unless Vlad or Sheffield were signed, no upgrade here was going to be seen as very substantial.

2) Replace Carlos Guillen - I'm assuming that character/chemistry issues played a part in this. Unfortunately, Miguel Tejada ended up costing too much, which was our best shot at a big upgrade. Should we have gone 6/$72M? Maybe, but I'm glad we didn't. I like Rich Aurilia as well as Guillen, and their contracts would have been pretty similar (3.5 vs. 3.4 million) if Guillen would have stayed healthy. But Guillen wouldn't have, which is the whole point. As for what we got for Guillen, Santiago is a prospect that was rushed. On a World Series team like the M's he won't be more than a backup, but he's got a chance to have a decent career ahead of him.

3) Replace Cirillo - Scott Spiezio will be the next Bret Boone. Period. What other 3B was available? As far as what we got for Cirillo, I'll contend that all three on their own are easier to trade and potentially more useful, and certainly won't be a giant sucking sound as far as team chemistry goes.

4) Reconfigure Bullpen - Rhodes sucked in second half and in his trials as a closer, while Guardado has dominated and finished strong last year. A creative contract that set him up to be closer when Sasaki departs.

5) Retain Starters - Plan A seemed to be to trade Freddy for a big bat, and keep the other four. Instead, no Freddy deal materializes yet. In meantime, we REWARD our players by keeping and resigning them, not imagining problems like Ryan Franklin's ERA blowing up with loss of Cameron. If that happens, then we have plenty of depth to deal from.

6) Upgrade bench - We didn't use Colbrunn last year, so did straight swap for him and more versatile McCracken. Colbrunn was essentially signed to be the DH when Edgar gets hurt, and was not going to get that opportunity. A big bat would be nice, but its hard to sign a big bat to sit on the bench. Matt Stairs gets playing time in KC he would not get here. And if we have a major injury, we have pitching to trade and Chris Snelling and Justin Leone playing full-time in the minors, ready for the call.

When you follow every move, and dream about the possibilities, you can make the M's a better team. But sometimes, players don't want to play somewhere, or another team wants a player more, because they have a bigger need. The Angels weren't planning on Vlad, but they were lucky enough that the Orioles were the only other player, that they had the Latino community Vlad wanted, and the big money when the opportunity arose. Hats off to them for good luck. And now the M's may take advantage of similar luck to land Pudge Rodriguez. But the blogosphere will decry the M's as "lucky" if they get Pudge at a good price, while they will laud the Angels for getting Vlad at a nice price.

Take some time to look at the Mariners, AS THEY ARE, not as they could have been if they had gone after player A or player B. Give credit when it is due, even if it looks like luck. And we'll look forward to the M's-Padres World Series in 2004!

Oh yeah - thanks to the one mention at U.S.S. Mariner, my traffic tripled yesterday. Have I mentioned how much I love those guys, and am really looking forward to making their blogosphere links :-)

Monday, January 26, 2004

With a Wink and a Nudge 

For a brief moment, I had my hopes up that DMZ (a very nice set of initials) at the original M's blog, USS Mariner, had given me a permanent link after announcing my presence to their (I'm guessing larger than mine) reading audience.

I was going to honor them by allowing them to keep their suggested title of "Cranky Internet Columnist." Essentially, Derek does not like that I divide blogs into optimist and pessimist. Of course we are all Mariner fans and want the M's to win. I chose "optimist" as a tone for the blog, not to condemn the other blogs, who frankly, do excellent and entertaining analysis of the M's and their moves.

As a holder of a statistics degree, I understand their pessimism. Ibanez is probably being overpaid for his Kaufmann-stadium inflated stats. Scott Spiezio has never played 3B. Arthur Rhodes may be a better pitcher than Eddie Guardado. And Quinton McCracken may be the worst 4th OF in baseball. But, maybe they are wrong.

I just happen to be optimistic enough to think that hey, stats are NOT everything. There are other reasons to make moves. If the 25 best sets of stats won every year, the Marlins and Angels wouldn't be World Series Champs this year. I believe in chemistry even though it can't be measured. I like my team to have players I like as people. Raul Ibanez being a great guy is NOT BAD NEWS as some blogs, which I label pessimist, would have you believe. And even though under the sabermetric microscope, a move may look idiotic, I think M's management has put together a World Series contender in 2004.

Well, anyway, I've changed my template, and I wanted to also announce a new site, Mariner Minors, who look like they will have minutae about our minor league players, which should be a great reference. (Of course, I was in the middle of an optimistic posting on some of our top players, but I'll table that till later for now).

So I go back to USS Mariner to be the first to link to Mariner Optimist from there (and make sure it works), and I find that, while they've added Mariner Minors to their list of M's blogsphere, yours truly (and the Gleeman-length Sons of Buhner as well) were not added. Sigh - I guess I'll need to change my blog title, yet...

Hopefully by the time you read this, Mariner Optimist will be considered a part of the M's blogosphere by USS Mariner. If not, I'll hope that those Mariner fans looking for happy news that is not necessarily spoon-fed by the media will find me through links in the rest of the blogosphere. Or by googling "heckling basketball Rice Owls."

If any other blogs would like to choose their label, let me know, and I'll be happy to change it for you. These blogs are nothing if not easy to maintain. And if you know the guys at U.S.S. Mariner, send em a note asking them to add Mariner Optimist and Sons of Buhner to their template. I think they are sick of hearing from me.

And of course, now that there are 23 M's related blogs and counting, someone has already called for a moratorium and combining of blogs. I say give them all a try for awhile... some will drop out, some will merge, and some will drive away their readers by posting about sports from some school in Texas. In the meantime, I recommend going to baseballblogs.org and learning about RSS feeds - it at least cuts down on having to hunt for new posts.

Scott Spiezio Rocks 

Looking forward to seeing Spiezio becoming a fan favorite and maybe another shot at World Series Hero. Steve Kelley interviews Spiezio's band-mate, Jeremy Sparta, and reveals Scott as much less confident on stage than in the batter's box.

You get the feeling Scott Spiezio is going to be an instant fan favorite. The son of former big leaguer Ed Spiezio — an accordion player with perfect pitch — he is the antithesis of "big time."

And, where his predecessor, Jeff Cirillo, was wrapped as tightly as an old-school Titleist, Spiezio is as loose as David Lee Roth.

"He is absolutely the most normal guy you could meet," Sparta said. "We've met a lot of major-league players through Scott and I can tell you he's a one-in-a-million. It's never gone to his head.

"He still thinks it's funny when people come up to him and ask for his autograph. He acts like, 'Why would you want my autograph?' The way we look at Scott is that he has a good-paying, high-profile day job, but he's just a regular guy."

Just a regular guy who loves playing hardball and heavy metal.

If Spiezio hits and doesn't bring back visions of Russ Davis fielding at 3B then M's fans are gonna love him. Humility and personality, too? Its a good time to buy low on Scott Spiezio stock..

Quote of the Day 

"I'm not going to talk about (retirement) during the season. I probably won't even be sure what I'm going to do (in 2005) until the end of the (2004) season."

- Edgar Martinez, quoted in an MLB.com article on Mariners FanFest.

In hindsight, I should have named my first born "Edgar." She would have learned to love that name just like I do.

Scott Boras' Number 

Rob Neyer had an interesting article on the genius Of Scott Boras. It essentially describes how Boras has changed the game from two teams fighting over a player to determine the number he will be paid, to Boras dictating the number even with only one team involved. See Rodriguez, Alex, and now Pudge...

Meanwhile, Larry Larue reports that Mariners GM Bill Bavasi vehemently denied the report from a Detroit sports website, saying "There is absolutely nothing to that story. They either have bad sources or they're fools, or both.". But the article goes on to say that they do NOT deny interest but that talks will not happen until Sasaki's departure is official.

Does this "pursuit" of Pudge Rodriguez seem familiar? I'm not helping. So this will be my last Pudge Rodriguez bandwagon pushing post until he signs. How about that FanFest? Can't wait for that big Carolina-New Englaaaaawwwwnn. G'night.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Nevada pins Second Conference Loss on Owls 

Another road game in front of a hostile crowd, another pathetically slow start for the Owls. And just like last Saturday in Tulsa, the slow start could not be overcome as the Owls fell to 14-5, 5-2 in conference play. And worse for Rice, this time they could not event make things interesting as they fell 101-76 to Nevada (11-6, 5-3).

The Owls started the game shooting 2-11 and fell behind 25-7 in the games first eight minutes, and never recovered, getting no closer than 15 at 86-71. Nevada is now 9-0 at home, and just one half game behind the Owls for second place in the tough WAC.

Rice' next game is on Wednesday at the cozy confines of Autry Court as they host first place Hawaii who survived Boise St last night 64-58 to go to 6-1 in WAC play.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

The Pudge Bandwagon Rolls On 

Another new M's blog, The Sons of Buhner, jumps right in on the Pudge bandwagon and gives a good argument for Pudge.

According to Alan Trammell, the Tigers pursuit of Pudge is in the "limbo stage," whatever that means.

Justin Spiro at DetroitSports.net reports that a source close to Pudge says he is going to sign with the Mariners. He is proud to be "breaking" this story which just may be an attempt to scoop on a likely possibility. We'll see...

I think at this point most of the M's blogosphere is on the Pudge bandwagon, or else wanting the M's to make a trade for one of Magglio Ordonez, Jim Edmonds, Carlos Beltran, or save the money so such a trade could be made later in the season.

The press seems to be on the wait for something better bandwagon as this article on Tribnet argues that Pudge is only worth 6 HRs and his defense is deteriorating. Wait for something better. I'll admit that this was my first inclination, but I'd prefer we pick up Pudge now, and then feel free to deal Freddy for a big bat later if we need it. There is NO reason we can't do both, and signing Pudge now takes off the pressure.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out because if the negotiations stall, but the Mariners do NOT pursue Pudge, they could be setting themselves up for a huge media lambasting. So either M's management is ready to go after Pudge, or else they are praying that he signs with the Tigers quickly.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Arbitration Scoreboard 

2/18 UPDATE: Albert Pujols signs megadeal, and Pierzynski wins his case.

26 players have filed for salary arbitration in 2004.

Here is the list of 2004 arbitration filings with repeat offenders highlighted. I attempt to offer a prediction if it were to go to arbitration and highlight a key reason for my pick. I will maintain the results as they occur.

Player Team 2003 Salary 2004 Asked 2004 Offered DiffPredicted ResultActual Result
Kevin MillwoodPHI9,90012,50010,0002,500Loss (ERA up)Signed/Lost(1yr/$11M)
Albert PujolsSTL90010,5007,0003,500Win (Long-term Contract)Signed/Big Win(7yr/$100M)
Eric GagneLA5508,0005,0003,000Win(Cy Young)
David OrtizBOS1,2505,0004,200750Loss(< 450 ABs)Signed/Split ($4.5875 + 50K for 525 ABs)
Placido PolancoPHI2,8754,5003,4001,100Loss(So will Split again)Signed/Split
Doug MientkiewiczMIN1,7503,6002,5001,100Win(OBP=.393)Signed/Won(2-yr/$7M + $3.35M option)
A.J. PierzynskiSF3653,5002,2501,250Win(OPS=824 for C)Win
Melvin MoraBAL1,7253,3002,400900Win(OPS>900)Signed/Win (3yr/$10.5M)
Vicente PadillaPHI4252,9502,350600Win(Consistent)Signed/Loss (2.6M is below midpoint)
Shea HillenbrandARI4082,8752,400475Loss(OBP <.320)Signed/Lost($2.6M)
Jay GibbonsBAL3752,8002,400400Win(780 OPS)Signed/Split
Gabe WhiteNYY3,3172,7001,825875Win(not that bad)Signed/Lost(1yr/$2.125 with club option for 2005)
Johan SantanaMIN3352,4501,600850Win(Flat Out Stud)Lost(bad yr for pitchers)
Darrell MayKC4502,2001,850350Win(K/BB improving)Signed/Win (2yr/$4,950)
David EcksteinANA4252,1501,600550Loss(.325 SLG,OBP)Win(big 2002, injured 2003?)
Shawn ChaconCOL3002,1001,650450Win(named closer)Signed/Split(1yr/$1.85M with closer 100K incentives)
Jack WilsonPIT3351,8501,400450Loss(or is Released!)Win(Pirates Mgmt is inept)
Guillermo MotaLA6751,7501,200550Win(Top reliever)Signed/Split
Kyle FarnsworthCHC6001,7001,100600Win(K/BB up)Signed/Split
Nick JohnsonMON3641,6801,250400Loss(<350 ABs 2 yrs)Lost
B.J. RyanBAL7631,5501,000550Loss(1BB / 2inn)Signed/Split
Chris ReitsmaCIN3501,450950500Win(saves overrated)LOST (not closer any longer?)
Jolbert CabreraLA4351,350850500PLAYER RELEASED(see Giovanni)Signed/Split ($1.1M w/$1.4M-2.4M Option)
Chad BradfordOAK3311,125850275Win(tough)Signed/Lost($965K)
J.C. RomeroMIN325925650275Loss(K/BB = 1)Signed/Win(1yr/820K)
Damian RollsTB300900700200Win(TB luck)Signed/Split

I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the 2003 salary arbitrations and then use that information to make a guess as to how the 2004 arbitration proceedings will go. If nothing else, its interesting to see the arbitration requests and results in 2003. All of my information comes from Doug Pappas, SABR Business of Baseball Committee, and I highly recommend bookmarking his site since the only place I know of to get all this information.

In 2003, 42 players filed for salary arbitration, but only 7 players went to arbitration. Of those seven, only two players won - Mark Redman and Freddy Garcia. Amazingly, an arbiter decided that Freddy was worth 6.875M and not 5.9M while Carlos Beltran was given 6M instead of the 6.95M he asked for. Arbitration appears to be a bit of a crapshoot. Here's the full list...

Player Team 2002 Salary 2003 Asked 2003 Offered 2003 Salary Won/Lost/Sign
Greg MadduxATL13,10016,00013,50014,750Signed/Split
Javier VazquezMON4,7757,1506,0006,000Lost
Carlos BeltranKC3,5006,9006,0006,000Lost
Freddy GarciaSEA3,8006,8755,9006,875Won
Billy KochCHW2,4335,9004,2504,250Signed/Multiyear
Sidney PonsonBAL2,6504,7503,9004,250Signed/Lost
Kelvim EscobarTOR2,3004,6003,5003,900Signed/Multiyear
Orlando HernandezMON3,2004,5004,0004,100Signed/Lost
Jose JimenezCOL1,9383,9003,2003,600Signed/Won
Raul IbanezKC8003,4002,7503,000Signed/Lost
Terry AdamsPHI2,7003,3952,7002,900Signed/Lost
Placido PolancoPHI1,7503,2502,5002,875Signed/Split
Jacque JonesMIN3133,2002,7502,750Signed/Multiyear
A.J. BurnettFLA3683,0752,5002,500Lost
Mark RedmanFLA3002,1501,8002,150Won
Doug MientkiewiczMIN2852,0501,4501,750Signed/Split
Melvin MoraBAL3502,0001,4501,725Signed/Split
Julio LugoHOU3251,8001,5001,575Signed/Lost
Jerry HairstonBAL3001,8001,1501,550Signed/Won
Randall SimonPIT2901,8001,3001,475Signed/Lost
Vladamir NunezFLA3601,7501,4001,400Lost
Scott SchoenweisANA3251,5501,2501,425Signed/Won
Erubiel DurazoOAK3751,4009001,065Signed/Lost
Scott StricklandNYM3551,175875950Signed/Lost
Francisco CorderoTEX2781,175775900Signed/Lost
Ben DavisSEA3501,1258751,000Signed/Split
Giovanni CarraraLA360880725400RELEASED/OUCH
Joey EischenMON215875725750Signed/Lost
Bruce ChenCIN300830700700Lost
B.J. RyanBAL300825700762.5Signed/Split
Doug MirabelliBAL650950660805Signed/Split
Lou MerloniBOS290625450560Signed/Won
Dan ReichertTB265600450525Signed/Split

Interestingly, the salary gaps in 2004 are MUCH wider than in 2003. The average difference between owner and player is $1,000,000. In 2004, the average difference was around $440,000.
The top three requests are more than $2.5 million apart. In 2003, only Greg Maddux was separated by that much.
Take those three players out of the mix, and the average gap is still $700,000 while removing Maddux drops the 2003 average to $375,000, which could account for how few players actually went to arbitration.
In 2003, six players asked for $800,000 or more greater than the owners were willing to spend and that is the same as in 2004.
The main difference seems to be a great reduction in the number of filings that are $300,000 or less apart. 11 filed for this "pittance" in 2003 while only 3 in 2004.

Howard Lincoln on a Desert Island 

Yesterday, Howard Lincoln appeared on KOMO radio and gave the following golden nugget after discussing losing Ken Griffey, Jr. and Alex Rodriguez and comparing the two as people.

Let there be no question. I like Ken Griffey as a person. If I was on a desert island, and I had to choose between Ken and Alex, I'd pick Kenny. Believe me.

Other than that quote, the interview was about what you would expect. Bavasi will decide how the money is spent. Our goal is to win a World Series. He did say they might have gone after Vlad if they knew about Sasaki sooner. Felt they were as aggressive as they could be on Tejada. Likes all the offseason moves. Etc...

Buzzer Beater Leads Rice Over Fresno 

Jason McKreith hit a 17-footer from the right side with 1 second left to give the Owls a 65-63 win at Fresno St and move into a tie with Hawaii (which beat UTEP to go 13-3, 5-1) for first place in the WAC.

The Owls showed a toughness they did not display on Saturday in Tulsa. The victory, played before Fresno State's largest crowd of the season (14,226) is Rice's first-ever win in Fresno. The game was close the whole way and the hecklers were out (although the crowd was too noisy to pick out any individual taunts)

The Owls were down 58-54 with four minutes to play before McKrieth and fellow junior Michael Harris went to work. Harris had a monster rebound jam to cut it to 58-56 and McKrieth converted a three-point play on his rebound dunk to build a 59-58 Rice lead.
Harris then made two free throws for a 61-58 lead. Fresno State responded with two free throws to cut the Rice lead to one. Using a Rice timeout, Rice coach Willis Wilson drew up a play that resulted in a layup by Harris with 30 seconds left and Rice ahead 63-60.

But Fresno State's Terry Pettis hit a long three-pointer with 18 seconds remaining to knot the score at 63. Rice called timeout and setup the final play. With time running down, McKrieth received a pass from Rashid Smith and then juked and pumped-fake Pettis off his feet before burying the game winner.

McKrieth had a game-high 24 points with eight rebounds, while Harris added 16 points and eight boards.

Rice now stands at 13-4 with a 5-1 conference record while Fresno drops to 5-2 in the conference and 9-7 overall. Rice travels to Reno on Saturday to face preseason conference favorite Nevada (10-6, 4-3) in a huge game for the Owls.

State of the M's 

The M's had their annual state of the M's Spring Training luncheon yesterday, and a number of news articles chronicle it. I'll try to summarize here, but I have borrowed quotes from the following sources, which you should read for more details (and in some cases better writing).

Tribnet - Larue - Spiezio hits all right notes is a nice get-to-know Scott Spiezio article that I highly recommend.
Times - M's optimistic, yet unfinished; can't move before Sasaki resolution
PI - Hickey - Melvin ponders lineup shift
PI - Thiel - News flash: M's boss opens up
Tribnet - Beene - M's weigh spending options Times - Kelley - Mariners will see real Melvin this year
HeraldNet - Arnold - M's: No fear of Angels
Heraldnet - Arnold - Wife's health played role in Sasaki's decision

No big spending until Kaz is gone
At least one Mariner source indicates that Kazuhiro Sasaki may be leaving the Mariners for reasons other than the stated "to be with his children." It seems that his wife, Kaori, has been ill for some time. Allen Turner, who has been Sasaki's translator for four years says "She has been in and out of the hospital. That is definitely one of the things."

And the M's brass recognizes that as sudden as this development came, it may turn around just as suddenly, so they will not spend this "free money" until Kazu's departure is official. Reports indicate this could be as soon as a "week to 10 days"

"Until the day comes that this is finished, he's got a right to change his mind," Bavasi said of Sasaki. "You're not going to hear me talk about our plans, post-Kaz. Now, do I think in my head, 'Gee, what are we going to do?' Yeah, I do."

Can you imagine the ire of M's fans if Kaz changed his mind? That would be interesting, wouldn't it?

But what about Pudge?
When asked about the M's interest in Pudge, Bavasi tap-danced with...
"I'll let you say that. I'm not going to comment on which players we're steering toward," he said. "But I wouldn't tell you not to say that."

Bavasi definitely sounds interested in Pudge, but won't play games or talk to his agent, Scott Boras, until Kaz is off the books.
"I don't want to represent us to Scott as being on the verge of being able to sign him. That's not fair to Scott, and it's patently unfair to his player. He reads the papers, believe me. He knows exactly what's going on with our club, exactly what's going on with Kaz. He knows when this is probably going to go down, and he knows the likelihood. He's on top of the whole thing."

So if the Tigers dealings drag on another week (and Boras sent a counter-offer to the Tigers 4yr/$40M deal yesterday), the M's may still get into the fray.

When asked about Greg Maddux, Bavasi seemed more inclined to slam the door shut on that possibility by indicating that the 5 man rotation was pretty much set.

Guardado is the closer
In other big developments, Bob Melvin officially stated that the M's want Eddie Guardado to be the closer to open the season.
"He has the most experience, and he's had tremendous success doing it. That's who I would look to right now. ... We do have some other guys that can do it. But if you were to pin me down right now, I would say Guardado would be our closer."

This was obviously coming, but I would still have liked to see Shiggy keep the job, just to keep our strongest pairing of Guardado and Soriano handling the important 6th/7th/8th innings.

Bullpen Shuffle
And, Dr. Evil himself, Mike Meyers is the favorite to take the top lefty role out of the pen, but they may look at other options including ones currently outside the organization.

Overall, the M's bullpen will continue to be a strength of the Mariners.

"If Sasaki does finish what he wants to do and stays in Japan, we will not be a better bullpen in his absence," Bavasi said. "We will have to do some things to fill a void. If we have to make an adjustment, we will, and we'll probably end up with the same kind of bullpen, maybe a little better, than last year's."

It seems to me that a trade that brings over a big bat and a lefty reliever for Freddy and ? may be the way to go. I'll see if I can dream up a scenario later.

"Spiezio says he's a great third baseman."
Scott Spiezio attended the luncheon, picking up brownie points with the brass and discussing his abilities to play third.

"I would say I'm a great third baseman when I get to play there a lot," said Spiezio, then stopped himself. "Oh, you're all going to put that in: 'Spiezio says he's a great third baseman.' ... I think with me being able to go to spring training and work every day at third, it will help me out tremendously, and hopefully I can live up to what I just said." He continued, "I've been working on things like making the long throws and barehanded pickups of bunts already."

Spiezio certainly wants to be back at the Hot Corner. "But I always was a first baseman in college and the minor leagues, and I always thought I would get back to third base. But after playing so long at first base, I was beginning to think maybe it wouldn't happen."

I am definitely driving the Scott Spiezio bandwagon. Naysayers look at his limited time at 3B and mediocreI believe he is going to be a huge part of our 2004 World Championship! Jump on the bandwagon folks! There's still plenty of room!

Ichiro to 3-hole in lineup shuffle?
Bob Melvin says that he will experiment with Ichiro Suzuki in different spots in the batting order.

"I can tell you that Ichiro will not be a leadoff hitter in every game in spring training," said Melvin. "Last year I was reluctant to do it because we were winning and Ichiro's a natural there. But he could bat other places in the lineup. And he will if that's what it takes to make us a better team. We didn't get to the playoffs last year, so we've got to make some changes. That could be one of them."

Then there was talk of John Olerud moving from 5th to 2nd in the lineup. Melvin said that getting Oly to rebound from a bad year would be like "adding an extra half player." Given his ability to work the count and make contact, Oly may be an ideal #2 hitter.
"Those elements of his game you can't use when he bats fifth behind Edgar, " Melvin said. "So we'll take a look at him batting second and see if that works for us."

I think both of these ideas are excellent, though there is the baseclogging factor of having Olerud bat second and would cut down on Ichiro's SBs in the 3 hole. But still, I think we need to try to get Ichiro more ABs with men on base. And spreading Olerud and Edgar out should help cut down on the number of double plays last year (where the M's had the 4th most in the AL).

A looser, more aggresive, Bob Melvin
Bob Melvin spoke a lot about possible changes to his managerial style in his second year, and I'm sure most M's fans will welcome them.

He assessed his leadership from last year and found himself wanting. Here is a collection of quotes that show where he hopes to go:

"I did come in reserved last year, and that was by design. I thought it was the right thing to do. With a veteran club, let it play. "

"And if you change in the middle of the year, it appears you're panicky."

"But, looking back, I felt there was a little bit left in the tank last year and I should have done things a little differently."

"I don't want the players to think it's going to be wholesale different, 100 percent across the board. But we didn't get where we wanted to go last year; therefore, you've got to do some things differently."

"I think I have to be a little more, not necessarily fiery, but more at the forefront in the dugout. I was real reserved, very unemotional last year, and that's really kind of not my nature. I'm not Larry Bowa by any stretch, but I'm somewhere in between Bowa and where I was last year. "

"I've learned that you have to let your emotions out at times. As a manager, if you're upset about something, everybody has to know about it. If you're happy about something, everybody needs to know about it. I maybe kind of missed that a little bit last year."

"At the end of the season, I felt like I was a wreck. A lot of that happens when you bottle up your emotions and you don't let anything out.

"I did a lot of thinking this offseason about what I need to do differently, and I think I need to let myself out a little bit more and let my emotions out a little bit more."

In addition to showing his personality, Melvin indicated that he wants to be more aggressive on the basepaths to take advantage of the better contact hitters we have and to keep out of the double plays, so look for more hit and runs, which are fun when they work and painful when they fail (see Edgar easing into the shortstops glove at 2B). Does anyone statistically check the success rate of hit & runs?

Trainer Rick Griffin's Health Report
Aaron Taylor had a partial rotator cuff tear repaired this offseason and might be ready for the start of the season.

Right-hander Freddy Garcia is recovering after operations to repair two ruptured eardrums and is expected to be ready when pitchers report for spring training Feb. 20. Garcia ruptured an eardrum in one ear when he had a head cold and sneezed while the team's jetliner was landing on a trip to Texas in 2002 (damn DFW!). On the return trip to Seattle after the series, Garcia ruptured the other eardrum. Corrective operations were postponed because patients aren't allowed to travel during recovery.

Griffin does not seem to think that the eardrum repair will have a big effect on Freddy, but is willing to give it credit if it turns Freddy around. "If he comes back and has a tremendous year and wins 20 games, throws 230 innings, then I guess it was his ears. As far as I know, there was never an equilibrium problem, never a problem with vertigo, never anything that stopped him from doing any of his work."

Former No. 1 draft pick Ryan Anderson, who has missed three years with arm troubles, has been given clearance to play catch.

Seems like good news on the medical front, though our coaches are falling apart with both Bob Melvin and Rene Lachemann getting offseason arm surgery. We'll see if the M's can get out of Spring Training without a prospect joining the bench staff by blowing out an elbow or shoulder, which seems to be an annual Rite of Spring for the Mariners.

Ranking the AL West
In a quote that will continue to fire up the other M's blogs, Bavasi, asked to rank the four AL West teams going into spring training, went with Anaheim, Seattle, Oakland and Texas, in that order. "Seattle and Oakland are real close," Bavasi said. "The Angels spent money wisely, and they spent a lot of it. I think Oakland or Seattle could get them."

Melvin seemed to back the assertion that the Angels should be the favorite, but shows no fear.

"They got better just by getting Erstad and Glaus back," Melvin said Thursday when he talked with reporters at the Mariners' annual preseason media briefing at Safeco Field. "Then you add a guy like Guerrero and a guy like Guillen, then a guy like Escobar and Colon, with the bullpen they have, they have a very strong club going into spring training.

"We've got our work cut out for us, but we still feel like we can beat them."

M's bloggers won't like this, but I think the M's are wise to position themselves as underdogs, and give them someone to shoot for. We have missed that feeling since Giambi left Oakland, and its a position we excel in. It does not mean we will compete less or more, or blow up our budget to keep up with the Moreno's. It puts the pressure on the Angels and takes it off of the M's.

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