Saturday, February 28, 2004

Rallying Around Raul 

Steve at Mariners Wheelhouse writes an entertaining (as usual) critique of my latest defense of Bavasi that compares me to Rumplestiltskin for trying to "spin" the Mariners offseason into gold.

The piece diverges later into the poor PR work that Lincoln & company did trying to say that they didn't realize A-Rod was available. Steve then comes to blanket conclusions that bash GM Bill Bavasi.

We have a GM who proactively gets involved in areas where he doesn't have the skills and should be holding back, and he is passive about staying in contact with his counterparts who are actively trying to make deals.
While their PR department is doing a horrible job with the Mariner fans, the front office deserves praise and not the abuse they've gotten for much of their work, including the offseason signing of Raul Ibanez.

Steve uses the signing of Frank Catalanotto back to his own Toronto Blue Jays to a one-year deal as evidence of the idiocy of signing Raul Ibanez to a 3 year, higher dollar deal. To back this up, he compares both the 2003 and lifetime OPS numbers of Ibanez and Catalanotto and sure enough, Catalanotto wins:

Player                BA  OBP  SLG  OPS 

Catalanotto, 2003 299 351 472 823
Ibañez, 2003 294 345 454 799
Catalanotto, career 297 359 465 824
Ibañez, career 278 334 464 798
Terms of contract:
Catalanotto: 1 year, $2.5 million
Ibañez: 3 yrs, $13.25 million
Tell me again why the Mariners think Ibañez was worth more than $4 million per year?
So, what's wrong with this comparison? First, it omits the fact that over the past two years, Cat played in approximately 200 games with 700 at bats while Ibanez played in 300 games with 1100 ABs. Ibanez is a better defender at both LF and 1B (although Catalanotto could play 2B, but hopefully we won't need someone to do that).

And most interestingly, Ibanez' numbers at Safeco Field (381/435/881, 5 HRs in 41 ABs) over the past three years absolutely crush Catalanottos (255/356/451, 2 HRs in 51 ABs) as well as the numbers of any human being on this planet. Now, I realize that 40-50 at bats is not considered statistically significant, but you gotta admit, Ibanez has kicked some serious tail at Safeco and it is intriguing to think what he could do there with a full season or three. Here are some excerpts from the ESPN article on the signing, that show how much Ibanez wants to hit at Safeco which is a refreshing change from the Mike Cameron death-by-Safeco era.

Ibanez has performed well at Safeco as a member of the Royals, hitting .381 with five home runs over the past three seasons. He feels his tendency to hit line drives contributed to his success in Seattle.

"If you hit balls in that big left-center gap, the ball hangs," he said.

Ibanez, who hit the first grand slam in Safeco Field history on July 17, 1999, said he simply likes the way it feels when he steps into the batter's box at the ballpark.

"I like that it's a wide-open field," he said. "Some parks you just like. You go to certain parks and feel things are all centered. I like the way it feels here."
Yeah, yeah, I know things like this won't impress the statarazzi, but maybe, just maybe, Ibanez and Safeco are the perfect fit.

But regardless how you spin stats and how much fun it would be if Ibanez continued to put up an 800+ slugging percentage in Safeco, do you know what is REALLY wrong with this argument? Well, first, Catalanotto's deal is actually only worth $2.3M not $2.5M so that's uh... nevermind that. Catalanotto also was resigning with his same team up from a $2.2M deal a year ago, while the Mariners were signing Ibanez away from a team that paid him a nice $3M salary in 2003, and who provided him the opportunity to resurrect a career that Lou Pinella had attempted to bury.

But forget all that, as no one factor stands out as hugely important. The key factor overlooked by Steve is that...

Catalanotto was not a free agent! Sadly, with 5 years, 171 days of major league service with the Blue Jays, Tigers and Rangers, poor Frank was ONE day shy of free agency, and instead was arbitration eligible. And, as described in this article on the signing, Cat had no leverage other than arbitration, so he decided to get his money quick, and frankly looks like he took way too little, leaving as much as a million dollars on the table.

... while [Catalonotto] thought he could make $3 million or more in arbitration, he wasn't sure the Jays would offer it.

"If you get non-tendered then you go out into that free agent market, then it's the unknown," he said. "You don't know what you're going to get."

The Jays signed Catalanotto Dec. 30, 2002, after the Rangers declined to offer him another contract before Dec. 21 deadline. He didn't want to sit around and wait again.

"It was kind of scary last year that free agent market," he said. "I made out probably the best out of probably anybody. You don't know how that market is going to be and I was concerned about that."
In fact, one could argue that if Catalonotto had done his research better, and waited until after the Ibanez signing to settle, that he too would have a $3M+ contract in hand right now. But projecting your worth and a players worth in the market is an inexact science. If not for Vladamir Guerrero's reluctance to play in Baltimore, the Mariners may have pegged the market for Tejada's services perfectly, as only the Orioles were willing to go crazy for Miguel (obviously, Baltimore could have had Tejada for 5yr/$46M and saved themselves $26M, right?)

The M's opened their wallets to get the guy they think is a perfect fit in left field. A guy who LOVES Safeco and Seattle and hits with power. Time may show that they overpaid, maybe by a million per season, maybe by a year too long. Or it may be a signing of Bret Bonnian proportions. I'll go on record as saying that by years end, bloggers will be praising Raul Ibanez for helping lead the Mariners to the Promised Land, or my name isn't the Mariner Optimistiltskin.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Quick Rice Update 

My apologies to M's fans eagerly awaiting the next "Glass Half Full" preview - work has bitten me a bit this week, and 1B is actually pretty interesting, so is taking awhile (I expect 2B will get cranked out pretty quickly).

While you're waiting, let me continue my quest to get all Seattle Mariner fans to root for the Rice Owls. Or at least to give some info to the other 1 or 2 M's fans who root for Rice.

This weekend, Rice basketball visits last place San Jose State on Friday night in what had better be a win for the Owls. A win will give the Owls 20 wins for the first time since the Scott Thompson era, and should guarantee us at least an NIT bid. Of course, this optimist and the Owls have their sights set on Rice getting their first NCAA bid in 34 years! It may come down to the WAC tournament for the Owls, and unfortunately, the tournament is at Fresno State, where their students research how to heckle.

In baseball, Rice hosts another interesting tournament that will send Philip Humber to the mound tonight against #15 North Carolina, Wade Townsend (who claims his teammates call him the "alpha male to the human race") to the mound against #16 Nebraska on Saturday, and Jeff Niemann going against unranked Northwestern State on Sunday.

All Rice sports can be heard over the Internet at www.tsrnsports.com.

Gleeman on Soriano 

Aaron's Baseball Blog is in the process of reviewing the top 50 prospects from last year. At number 30 was Rafael Soriano. About Soriano, Gleeman writes

After being a starting pitcher in the minors, Rafael Soriano spent last year pitching out of Seattle's bullpen. He came up for a couple weeks at the end of April, went back down to Triple-A for about a month, and then rejoined the team for the remainder of the year. In all, he pitched 53 innings in 40 games with the Mariners, all in relief, going 3-0 with a 1.53 ERA.

The miniscule ERA is extremely impressive, but do you want to know the two numbers I like the most? 11.55 strikeouts per nine innings and a .162 batting average against. The only pitcher who pitched as many innings as Soriano did and had a higher strikeout rate or a lower opponent batting average was Eric Gagne, the NL Cy Young winner.

After watching Soriano pitch and after staring at his amazing numbers, I would love nothing more than to proclaim him the next Johan Santana, and to campaign for his place in Seattle's starting five, just like I did for Johan over the past two seasons. Unfortunately, Rafael Soriano appears to be more interested in becoming the next Mariano Rivera.

I'd like to see Soriano start, but once a team and a player begin to agree that the best spot for him is in the bullpen, it's usually a done deal. While Santana held strong to his belief that he deserved to be a starter, often talking to the media about it, Soriano was quoted earlier this week as saying, "I just feel comfortable [in the bullpen]. I want to be a closer, but I'll do anything they want."
Stock: UP
Its interesting to compare the attitudes of Soriano and Santana. Santana complained in the press about not getting starts, and he eventually go to start, and now he is viewed as one of the top starters in the American League. Soriano has stated in the media that he is more comfortable relieving and wants to be the next Mariano Rivera. And so that looks like the career path he will follow. It can be debated which would be more valuable, but with the current abundance of starters that the Mariners have, they are not going to try to push Soriano into the rotation. We'll see if his desire to start increases when a spot in the rotation appears.

For you M's fans that are interested, here are Aaron's other reviews of Mariner prospects.

#18 Jose Lopez
I began my comment on Jose Lopez last year with the following:
I suppose that every person ranking prospects and trying to predict the future gets that "feeling" about certain lesser-known players. I get that feeling about Jose Lopez.
Perhaps the next time I get one of those "feelings," I should just go to a doctor.

Lopez hit just .258/.303/.403 last season, which is certainly not what I had in mind when I wrote that last year. Still, it's important to remember that he was a 19-year-old playing at Double-A, so the fact that he simply held his own is worthwhile in itself.

Beyond his age, there are other bright spots. Lopez hit 13 homers and 35 doubles in 132 games, stole 18 bases and, although he didn't walk much, he also only struck out 56 times. I still think he's got a chance to become a special player, but 2003 was definitely a disappointment.
Stock: DOWN
#27 Clint Nagoette
Clint Nageotte moved up to Double-A in 2003 and continued to pile up strikeouts. He whiffed 157 batters in 154 innings (9.2/9 IP), bringing his career totals as a pro to 617 Ks in 520 innings (10.7/9 IP).

The two things you always hear about Nageotte are that his slider is perhaps the best in all of minor league baseball and that he can be a pain in the butt to people who try to get him to rely on his other pitches more. What he throws and when he throws it aren't as important to me as the overall results, which have been extremely good.

The one concern is that his strikeout/walk ratio has gone from 3.74/1 in 2001 to 3.15/1 in 2002 and then to just 2.34/1 last year. That's not the type of pattern you like to see. Still, it's hard to argue with more than a strikeout per inning and a 3.10 ERA for a 22-year-old at Double-A, so...
#42 Chris Snelling
Chris Snelling made it to the majors for eight games with the Mariners in 2002, but blew out the ACL in his left knee and missed the rest of the season. The same injury limited him to just 65 games between Double-A and Triple-A in 2003 and, from most reports, bothered him quite a bit when he was able to play.

As usual though, Snelling was a very good offensive player when he was on the field. He hit .333/.371/.468 in 47 games at Double-A, before hitting .269/.333/.433 in 18 Triple-A games.

Despite missing huge chunks of time in several seasons and having his development severely stalled, Snelling still doesn't turn 23 until December. I still think he can be an impact player, but he's going to have to show he can stay healthy first.
#50 Travis Blackley
Thinking back on it, one of the toughest things to do while compiling last year's rankings was deciding who was going to make the list at spots 45-50, and which guys, essentially ranked 51 and up, were going to be left out.

The difference between the guy ranked #1 and the guy ranked #25 is significant, but the farther down the list you get, the less of a difference there is (at least in my mind). So, while someone like Travis Blackley snuck onto the list as #50 last year, he was basically in a group of about 20-30 guys who all could have been put there.

That said, I am very glad Blackley made the cut. He had an extremely impressive season as a 20-year-old at Double-A San Antonio in 2003, going 17-3 with a 2.61 ERA in 162.1 innings pitched. He posted great strikeout numbers (although down from 2002) and a very solid 144/62 strikeout/walk ratio.

I feel very good about Blackley's inclusion in my top 50 from last year, not only because he did very well in 2003, but also because he was a relatively unknown prospect heading into the season.
Stock: UP

Lineup Experimentation 

Spring is great. Only in Spring can you get two articles discussing lineups in the same newspaper, and have them be radically different.

Bob Finnigan writes about the possibility of moving Ichiro to the No. 3 spot in the order. This would have a ripple effect to keep the lefty-righty alternating through the heart of the order and move Bret Boone to fourth, Raul Ibanez fifth, Edgar Martinez sixth and John Olerud seventh.

Now, that is a radical change from years past, and actually provides a pretty interesting look:

CF Winn
3B Spiezio
RF Ichiro
2B Boone
LF Ibanez
DH Edgar
1B Olerud
SS Aurilia
C Davis

Don't expect to see this lineup too often during the regular season, but watch this Spring to see if Melvin runs out something like it.

Meanwhile, in the very same newspaper, the Mariner Notes section mentions that Bob Melvin may try tinkering with his lineup by hitting someone other than the catcher in the No. 9 slot in order to have a speedy hitter take advantage of Ichiro's ability to hit to the right side. They propose moving Winn to the 9 spot, and then Rich Aurilia or Scott Spiezio would bat in the No. 2 hole.

"If we can get a catcher to be a bit more productive, we could hit them higher in the lineup and have someone else hit ninth in front of Ichiro," Melvin said. "With Ichiro hitting all those grounders to the right side, we could take advantage of that, and someone who can run a bit could go around to third base."

This lineup might look like:

RF Ichiro
3B Spiezio
DH Edgar
2B Boone
LF Ibanez
1B Olerud
C Davis
SS Aurilia
CF Winn

Meanwhile, Edgar and The Boone remind us that wherever they bat, you have to check your bats before you use them.

And, thanks to Larry Larues article above, the quote of the day comes from Ryan Franklin, when asked if the 2-year contract he signed this offseason was his first multi-year contract: "No, I had one with my cell phone company, too."

Ya Gotta Love These Guys.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Soriano Out a Month 

Rafael Soriano strained an oblique muscle and will be out at least a month. Here is the Finnigan spin.

While the injury is not a happy one, the long-term prognosis is good, as the injury is similar to the one that kept Dan Wilson out for 28 days at the end of Spring Training last year. In the meantime, it will force the coaching staff to focus even more on bullpen depth in the event that Soriano can't make it back by Opening Day.

From the various articles out there, we get confirmation from Melvin that Soriano was seen as the 8th inning setup man, and that Hasegawa will be considered for the 7th. I still would prefer to see us have more flexibility in our bullpen, and more multi-inning appearances from Shiggy and Soriano (does he have a studly nickname yet? He needs one), but it looks like the M's won't mess with the success of the Nelson/Rhodes model much this year.

The Finnigan piece had an interesting quote from Bob Melvin that seems to indicate that the M's are currently only thinking about keeping one lefty in the pen, but the injury may open a spot for a second lefty. "It could make it more important to find another left-hander ... No, we have the lefties, let's say to 'keep' another lefty." George Sherrill's ears just perked up.

Who the Execs are Watching
More interesting quotes from this must-read Larry Larue article which gives the coaches and executives picks for players to watch in camp.

- GM Bill Bavasi and Roger Jongewaard like the chances for 20-year old shortstop Jose Lopez to move to the big club this season after starting in AAA Tacoma.
- Pitching coach Brian Price wants to see if starter Craig Anderson can duplicate his minor league success on the big stage.
- Frank Mattox, the director of player development for Seattle, is watching starting pitchers Clint Nageotte, Travis Blackley, and Rhett Johnson.
- VP of Player Development Benny Looper chooses LHP George Sherrill and 3B Greg Dobbs.

"Sherrill is a left-hander we signed out of the Independent League. He was a big guy who threw hard, and he lost 40-45 pounds. He still has a bit of a dumpy body, but last year in Class AA he pitched 27 1/3 innings in relief - and allowed one run... He's 27, throws a slider, fastball and change. We need left-handed relievers. I'd love to have him have a great spring."

Sherrill's weight loss is growing by the day, and with the amount of coverage he's getting, he might be the top man to watch for moving into the M's bullpen.

"Dobbs is a 25-year-old infielder who can hit. I'm not sure what position he'll stick at, but we're going to give him a full season at third base. He had a good spring last year, then blew out his Achilles' tendon after his second game of the season. He's a left-handed hitter with a good-looking bat, a doubles hitter with a bit of power. He reminds me a bit of Robin Ventura."

Both Greg Dobbs and Justin Leone could work their way onto the Mariners bench with a big Spring. Both could play 3B, moving Spiezio to 1B when Olerud needs a rest. Leone could play other infield positions as well. I would be surprised if they made the team out of Spring, however, as both would likely better be served playing full-time and getting a call up if the team needs a jolt, or a full-time replacement for an injury.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Soliciting MBSBL Advice 

With the pick of Chone Figgins to act as a late inning defensive replacement and pinch runner, my bench is complete. With three picks left, I still need three more pitchers, and two of them have to be starters. Every other team has at least 5 starters, so I can pretty much take whoever I want, but I'm finding myself overwhelmed by the possibilities. So I am asking you for help.

Email your suggestions and rationale to me at marineroptimist@hotmail.com, and I'll go with the best advice I get. And fellow MBSBLers try to keep your spam suggestions of Chan Ho Park to a minimum.

Around the M's Bullpen 

After yesterday's report on catchers, I thought I'd go around the Internet, and gather up several articles to see how our bullpen was doing in the early days of Spring.

Rafael Soriano as the next Mariano Rivera
Much offseason discussion has centered around how the Mariners have blocked Rafael Soriano from moving into the rotation, and what a disservice they are doing to Soriano. I mean, just look at his 0.21 ERA as a starter for Licey in Winter Ball. According to John Hickey's article, Strikeout changed Soriano's Career, Rafael would prefer to remain in the bullpen and the M's are willing to let him.

Quotes from Rafael include "I just feel comfortable there. I want to be a closer, but I'll do anything they want." and "I want to be like Mariano Rivera." . So, it looks like Rafael is in his comfort zone as a reliever and wants to follow the Mariano Rivera career path. Melvin indicates (in this Larry Larue piece)that Soriano will likely get chances to close this year. "Eddie Guardado is our closer, but on nights he can't go, I'd have no problem using Rafael to close a game."

Last year, Soriano started in the minors in anticipation of him moving up to be the M's rotation when needed. As it turned out, the Mariners did not need a starter all season as miraculously, the Mariners only used 5 starters all of last year. But the Spring Training thought was to make him a starter. "If we were going to need another starter last year, Soriano was going to be the guy, which is one reason he didn't make the club last spring," Melvin said. "When he did come up, he was absolutely dominant. He has other pitches, but if he has to, he can go with nothing but fastballs and know he can get away with them.

So, for now, Rafael Soriano will remain in the bullpen and will see the critical 6th-7th-8th inning work that Mariano Rivera used to see while setting up John Wetteland in 1995. But it will be interesting to see where his immense talent takes him, and what the M's do if a starting pitcher gets a serious injury or is traded. Ron Villone and Kevin Jarvis may be the first options, but lets face it... if Jarvis impresses at all, the M's will look to deal him while his perceived value is high. Villone is a better bet, but does not have a long track record of success as a starter.

My guess is that M's management would still like to see Soriano as a starter, but are prepared to keep him as a reliever while they have a wealth of starters. The fact that they let him start throughout Winter League supports this theory, but only time will tell, as the M's are not about to start talking about Soriano as a starter while there is no spot available, and the M's have a lot of options in the rotation, but it sure is nice to have a dominant pitcher or two in the pen.

Mateo's Hard Work Pays Off
Bob Finnigan writes that its Julio Mateo that might be slated next for the rotation.

Indeed, had the Mariners traded Freddy Garcia, Mateo — with a good assortment of pitches, including a split-fingered fastball to get lefties out — might have replaced him in the rotation.

"No one said anything to me, but I heard some things," he said, with a small smile. "You know, I want to be ready."

Julio Mateo's story is the one that Bob Melvin used to inspire the young kids in camp who seemingly have no shot at making the big club.

"I was talking about what Julio did last year when I gave my speech to the players on our first day," Mariners manager Bob Melvin said. "There's always a chance to be there, as he showed last year."

Julio Mateo and Bob Melvin both credit the way Mateo worked for getting him noticed, and keeping him focused in the tough role of spot reliever.

"They didn't have plans for me last spring. I knew that," Mateo said. "I came to work hard and make an impression. But it worked out, and I was with the team and then I had to keep working hard."

"There were times that kid went 12 days between appearances," the manager pointed out. "His bullpens became his games, and he threw them like that. Then he was ready when we needed him, and he kept getting better."

Everyday Eddie the Entertainer
Larry Larue introduces Eddie Guardado to us as a pitcher who has pitched in every role on the team, and found that his arm could bounce back quickly in relief appearances, and who thrived in the pressure of the ninth inning.

"The pressure of the ninth is that everyone on the team has done their job, and if you don't, you're letting everyone down. I've blown saves - it happens - and I will again. And every time, I'll apologize."

Guardado was the first player in the clubhouse on Saturday, showing up 3 hours before workouts began. And he showed off a side of a closer that Kazuhiro Sasaki never did, that they can give an entertaining interview.

"I began my career as a starting pitcher, and I'd never have believed it if you'd said I'd close one day," Guardado said. "I was a starter. Unfortunately, in my 25 big-league starts, I had three that were good - and that might be an exaggeration."

Forget "Ball Four", Give us "Strike Three"
Jeff Heaverlo is writing his autobiography. Someone should tell him that a Blog would get him instant readership as well as feedback on his writing style, and build his baseball fanbase considerably. Then again, it could just get him into hot water. Imagine if 'Ball Four' had been written as a blog. Jeff reminds us why clubhouse chemistry IS important in baseball.

"My mom has worked for Boeing for years and she likes her job, likes the people she works with, but it's not family. This is family, and that's part of what makes it unique."

Another burgeoning writer is 2004 Opening Day Starter Jamie Moyer, who is writing a series of guest columns for MLB.com during Spring Training. His first entry revisits his first big league camp with the Cubs in 1987. The difference between then and now?

I don't feel I am fighting for a job; I am working to get myself in shape. The mindset is a little bit different, but the work ethic is still there. I know I still have to work, but I am a little more relaxed now because I have some experience and have been around a little while. I get a little more leeway than a rookie.

Sidewinder Spotted in Arizona
The Go2Guy give us a fun article on Mike Myers sidearm and sometimes submarine delivery. I love watching sidearm pitchers. It just looks so unnatural, yet its so much easier on your arm. When projecting who will be the LOOGY (Lefty One-Out Guy) in the M's pen, keep in mind that Mike Myers has a clause in his contract that allows him to become a free agent if the Mariners haven't decided to keep him on the roster by March 30.

George Sherrill's Road Show
Bob Finnigan's latest about George Sherrill (and a little on Bobby Madritsch) was probably inspired this former Goldeyes gone good article from the Winnipeg Sun. (Thanks to Jeff at San Shin for finding it for both of us)

Finnigan's article gives a nice overview of George Sherrill's career and his 2003 season that began in Winnipeg until he was signed by the Mariners and moved to San Antonio for AA, then on to the Arizona Fall League, and Winter League stops in Puerto Rico and Lara.

But the Winnipeg Sun has the following quotes from Sherrill...

"I've seen it reported that (pitching coach Mike Price) called me a 'sleeper.' Well, that's nice to hear. Now, I'm not one to put too much stock in what I hear from others, but at least my name's out there. ... There's 59 players here and I don't want to be the 59th guy, if you know what I mean."

"Mr. Price has already told me I'll get ample opportunity to go out and get my innings here. It's hard to put into words what this all means to me. But let's just say this -- I plan on making the most of it."

"It could very well come down to Bobby (Madritsch) and I fighting it out for that final spot."

You've come a long way, Georgie...

Followup On Ben Davis  

Ask and you shall receive. While writing the Glass Half Full Preview on catchers, I looked and looked but could not find any information on what Ben Davis was doing this offseason to fix his second-half woes. Well, look no further. Larry Larue provides a thorough piece on Ben Davis that looks at his second half swoon of 2003 and how he is trying to fix it.

In the GHF preview, I hinted that Bob Melvin's tampering with the lineup after the All-Star Break might have affected Davis. Beginning July 22, Melvin rested Davis 4 straight days, and after that he was never the same. In Larue's article, Davis confirms that Melvin's lineup tinkering affected him. He says:
"At the break, I was playing a lot and doing well. After the break, I think Bob Melvin started looking for the best matchups - hitter vs. pitcher - and I didn't play as much. Then, when I did play, I didn't do the job. I'm not blaming Bob."

He also adds, "It got to the point last season where I almost dreaded coming to the park and looking at the lineup, hoping I was in it. I wasn't. Hopefully, I can change that this season."

I believe that after putting up an All-Star caliber first half, Ben Davis felt he had earned more playing time. Instead he received less in July and it affected him. Each start after that he felt he had something to prove, and he began pressing. Here is how Davis describes his second half: "I stunk. It was never a lack of effort. The whole second half was hard to swallow. I started to press. It got to me mentally. The second half was tough for the whole team."

So, this winter, Ben Davis grew up a bit. He got married, which trust me, matures you in a hurry. He took a look at his career and has decided he does not want to be a backup catcher anymore. And so he has worked hard to fix what he thinks is broken.

"I spent a lot of time watching video this winter, and I've changed my approach at the plate," he said. "I'm trying to take what Edgar (Martinez) does from the right side and what John (Olerud) does from the left.

"I hit off the tee a lot with that in mind. I eliminated the toe tap I've had, I took the wiggle with my hands out of my stance. I've tried to get shorter swings to the ball."

And while some of his female fans may miss the toe tap and the wiggle, they may admire his new physique. Last year he bulked up coming into the season, reaching 255 pounds. This year he is in camp at 242.

"My ideal playing weight is probably 235 pounds," he said. "I came in last year at 255, ended the season weighing 228. I'm hoping to lose a few pounds this spring and then maintain my weight."

In a similar article from the PI's John Hickey, Davis reminds us that it wasn't his playing weight that hurt him in the second half, it was his playing time.

"There's no correlation between my weight (loss) and hitting .140. The correlation is between playing time and just getting out on the field and into a nice rhythm. It's great to hear that I'll be given a chance to get it this year."

This is the kind of attitude and work you want to see from your starting catcher. Lets hope Ben has a monster spring, because the sooner he is playing full time, the sooner we have a big bat behind the plate, and Ben could make my .280/.340/.460 projection for him seem downright pessimistic by year's end.

Monday, February 23, 2004

"Glass Half Full" Preview - CATCHER 

The Glass Half Full Previews will take a position-by-position look at the Seattle Mariners. Each installment will review 2003, discuss the offseason tinkerings of the front office, preview the 2004 season and give a peek at what may come in 2005 and beyond Spring Training Updates are at bottom - last updated: 3/8

Despite the "Glass Half Full" name, your Mariner Optimist does have his feet firmly grounded in reality. To show that these will not all be 100% good news, lets ease into the optimism by starting what was one of our weakest positions in 2003 and could be our weakest going forward, the CATCHER position.

What Did We See in 2003:
The catcher position was not a strong suit of the 2003 Mariners, providing a meager .238/.274/.354 composite line. Lets break it down:
Player        G  AB  R  H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS 

Dan Wilson 96 316 32 76 15 2 4 43 15 52 0 0 .241 .272 .339 .611
Ben Davis 80 246 25 58 18 0 6 42 18 61 0 0 .236 .284 .382 .666
Pat Borders 12 14 1 2 1 0 0 1 1 5 0 0 .143 .200 .214 .414
Coming into 2003, a changing of the guard was expected as then-26-year-old Ben Davis was supposed to slowly take over for 34-year-old Dan Wilson, and possibly be the full-time starting catcher by year's end. A bulked up Davis (gained 30 pounds in the offseason) looked up to the challenge as he put up a very nice .294/.333/.490 split in 153 ABs before the All-Star Break. But the power Davis showed in April (.568 SLG) had tailed off by June (.435 Slug). Beginning July 22, Melvin rested Davis 4 straight days, and after that he was never the same. In August and Septermber combined, Davis hit one home run, two doubles and seven singles, while collecting just a single walk in 74 ABs, ultimately costing him playing time to Pat Gillick's houseboy, Pat Borders. In the end his .236/.284/.382 season was a step back from his .259/310/.404 split of 2002, not what one wants to see from a 26-year-old catcher.

Dan Wilson came into 2003 off his best season as a hitter in 2002 putting up a solid .295/.326/.396 split. That season (and his community leader status) earned him a hefty 2-year, $7 millon contract. And the offseason began with stories of how Dan had accepted the role of Ben's mentor. A strained oblique cost him the last month of Spring Training and stalled the start to his season. But for the remainder of the season he remained healthy, but his hitting did not. Wilson heated up in July, putting up an 843 OPS for the month, which may have contributed to the downfall of Davis' playing time. But in August and September, Wilson's OPS plummeted to 681 and 413 so that by September, the Mariners were getting ZERO offense from the catcher position.

Wilson is valued for his wide range of defensive skills, including his ability to call a game, his pitch-blocking skills and his accurate throwing arm. Wilson had just one error in 2003, while his pitchers had an ERA of 3.79 and he caught 30% of runners trying to steal. Davis' reputation was the opposite - supposedly he had a poor work ethic and pitchers did not like throwing to him. And though Ben committed 4 errors, he caught 35% of the runners trying to steal off of him and his pitchers threw for a 3.88 ERA. So he looked comparable to Wilson behind the plate.

Bob Melvin originally looked to give each catcher 2-3 pitchers to call on a regular basis. Dan Wilson acted as the personal catcher for Jamie Moyer. Manager Bob Melvin gave Joel Pineiro to Wilson as well, while Gil Meche and Ryan Franklin pitched primarily to Ben Davis.

For the first eight starts of the season, Wilson caught Freddy Garcia as well. But after Freddy's 2+ inning 9 run blowup that got him booed for the first time at Safeco, Wilson split Freddy duties with Davis, and it seemingly switched back after any bad start as Melvin tried everything he could to right Freddy's ship. In September, 40 year old Pat Borders was brought up from Tacoma to try to turn around Freddy Garcia for the stretch run. The grizzled vet seemed to be just the shot of penicillin that Freddy needed. In the four starts he caught Garcia, the M's won three games by a score of 2-1.

Hot Stove Action:
The offseason began calmly at catcher as it was assumed that the Mariners would try to finish what they started in 2003, that is have Dan Wilson hand the job off to Ben Davis. In early January, Ben Davis signed a 1-yr, $1.4M contract that seemed to say, yes, the M's were going to give Davis the chance, but weren't sure if he would run with it. Pat Borders was offered arbitration in order to buy time to sign a minor league contract.

The only impact free agent on the market was Pudge Rodriguez, but the Mariners had little interest in the Scott Boras client initially, choosing instead to focus on an ill-fated pursuit of Miguel Tejada. But in mid-January, Kazuhiro Sasaki dropped his bombshell that he was leaving the Mariners and suddenly the M's had $8+ million to spend and offense was still their big need. Pudge already had a 4yr/$40M offer on the table from the Tigers, but seemed to be hoping for something better. The talks around Pudge became fast and furious as the M's tried to make a late entry into the bidding. However, the risk of signing Pudge as an aging catcher to a long term contract was deemed too great, and the M's 1 year offer to Pudge was not what he was looking for, and he signed the deal with the Tigers.

The only new entry in the Mariners catching sweepstakes came as a byproduct of dumping Jeff Cirillo on the Padres. Wiki Gonzalez came over to the Mariners and because he had an option left, found himself immediately jettisoned to AAA Tacoma so that he would not take up a spot on the Mariners 40-man roster.

Interestingly, it was because of the potential Gonzalez flashed in 2001 that the Padres were willing to trade Ben Davis to Seattle. As Davis' backup in 2001, Wiklenman "please call me Wiki" Gonzalez put up a nice .275/.335/.463 line in 160 ABs

Entering 2002, Gonzalez was given the starting job and a three-year deal that will earn him $1.25M this year. But Gonzalez disappointed by reporting to camp out of shape, and his season was marred by multiple injureis including bone chips in his throwing elbow that required surgery at the end of the year. He ended the year with a poor .220/.330/.299 in 164 ABs. Apparently, his habits did not change for 2003, and he quickly fell out of favor in San Diego and was sent to AAA Portland on May 17th after compiling a pathetic .200/.264/.277 in 65 ABs.

Gonzalez plays solid defense and has a rifle arm that took out 37% of would-be basestealers between 2000-2002, but only 22% in 2003. His handling of pitchers (reflected in his pitchers 4.35 ERA) has come into question, and was a major factor in the Padres sending him down.

What's In Store for 2004:
Well, at 35 years old, there is probably nowhere else for Dan Wilson to go but down. His BB/K rate of .29 shows that a batting average in the .240s is likely what to expect from here on out, as his batting eye and hand speed diminishes. Its just a question of whether the other shoe will drop in 2004.

So the productivity at catcher in 2004 probably lies in the hands of one Ben Davis. As a 27-year-old with experience, he is entering his peak years as a hitter. Unfortunately, he is doing so after the worst half-season of his career. Davis obviously has the skillset to be a full-time catcher as seen by his defense, and his .294/.333/.490 first half would provide the kind of offense the Mariners have never seen out of the catcher position.

He may have simply worn down from his offseason body building efforts, or he may have been hiding an injury. I have seen NO news about Ben Davis in 2004, so he is one to watch VERY closely in Spring Training.

Wiki Gonzalez will get a chance to revive his flagging career in Tacoma. If he can get his act together, and work hard to improve his handling of pitchers, then Wiki may once again find himself taking Ben Davis job. However, it is quite possible that attitude and injuries have taken their toll on Gonzalez, and that he may never regain the promise he once showed. Lets hope that this trade will be a wakeup call, and Gonzalez will find his missing work ethic.

Is an inseason trade a possibility? Probably not. Paul Loduca of the Dodgers and Jason Kendall of the Pirates have been rumored in trade talks all offseason. Kendall's contract is too odious for my (and probably the Mariners') tastes, but Loduca could hold his own here. Unfortunately, if there is a team that needs a big bat more than the Mariners, its the Dodgers, so we don't match up particularly well for a trade there.

Further Down the Road (2005 and beyond):
During the offseason after 2004, Dan Wilson will likely be signed to a much smaller (but probably still large enough to get howls from the blogosphere) to be the backup and continue a career path that leads to a Pat Borders-like role with the Mariners. But unless he staves off Father Time, one of the following looks to be the starter in 2005:

1) Ben Davis - a big year in 2004, and he is a shoo-in for the starter role for 2005. 2005 will be his final arbitration eligible year, and if he excels in 2004, the M's will be thinking about a multiyear contract.

2) Wiki Gonzalez. Hopefully, seeing Ben Davis ahead of him once again will reignite his passion for the game, and he will battle Davis for the starting job in 2005. The M's have a club option for 2005 that they will not exercise, so Wiki will be arbitration eligible and should come cheaply.

3) Homegrown talent. Ryan Christianson was the M's catcher of the future, but has seen his stock plummet in recent years, and will head back to AA San Antonio to revive his prospect status by improviing his 317 OBP. The hottest catching prospect for the M's is Rene Rivera who impressed with Winter ball, and got a Spring Training invite, but will likely repeat High-A Inland Empire to prove that he can handle the stick. Luis Oliveros also got a non-roster invite to Spring Camp, and will also be at Inland Empire. One of these three needs to step up in 2004. There is not much help on the immediate horizon and the earliest we would see either is 2006 and more likely 2007.

4) 2005 Free Agents - Former Mariner Jason Varitek is the only free agent catcher in 2005 to get excited about, and he is likely to be resigned by the Red Sox. Oakland's Damian Miller, Toronto's Greg Myers, Yankee John Flaherty, or Cardinal Eli Marrero are all possibilities for a stopgap measure while waiting for prospects to develop.

Glass Half Full Projection
Davis steps up and assumes the starting catcher role for the stretch drive push en route to 15 homers and a solid .280/.340/.460 season in 350 ABs. Wilson remains Jamie Moyer's personal catcher, but holds on to first half playing time with a mediocre.240/.290/.360 line in 200 ABs.

In the offseason, Davis signs a 2-year, $5M deal and is anointed the starting catcher, while Wilson signs a 1-year, $1M deal to be the backup and continue his role as Jamie Moyer's personal catcher and Community Leader.

Other Links of Note
The one-and-done blog SaberMariners did a nice analysis of Dan Wilson for its inaugural entry.

Larry Larue on Ben Davis' offseason.

Spring Training Updates
2/22:Catcher Ryan Christianson can catch and throw but hasn't been cleared to play spring games yet. He's still recovering from right elbow problems that twice landed him on the disabled list last year.
2/23:Times Meet the Mariners: Wiki Gonzalez has these tidbits from the Wikster: "I was hurt and every time I started to play well again I got hurt again. But that's all in the past... I'm a new person and a new player. I'm in the best shape of my life. I'm happy to be here to help my new team."
3/2:Catcher Dan Wilson hit briefly off a tee but was held out of batting practice for the second consecutive day with a mild pain in his left side. And catcher Wiki Gonzalez caught and hit, but didn't throw because of a tender shoulder.
3/4:The Times has a nice article on what Pat Borders did to turn around Freddy Garcia last year. The Mariners will keep just two catchers — Wilson and Ben Davis — on the Opening Day roster. Borders will start the season at Class AAA Tacoma.
3/4:Catcher Wiki Gonzalez was scratched from the intrasquad game with a sore shoulder and already has been hampered by calf, back and arm troubles this spring. Rene Rivera took his place. Not good news for the Wiki Fan Club.
3/4:Peter White chimes in with a brutal haiku for Dan Wilson
3/8:Ben Davis takes a step back with poor pitch calling on national TV against Anaheim.

Next up: First Base

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Owls "Bust" Louisiana-Lafayette Right in the Brackets 

The Rice Owls and the Louisiana-Lafayette Rajun Cajuns both came in to their ESPN Bracket Buster game with a chip on their shoulder. Both teams wanted to take advantage of the national exposure to show their stuff for members of the NCAA Selection Committee. And the result was a sometimes sloppy, very physical game that the Owls pulled out 81-76.

But the win may prove costly, as the Owl center Yamar Diene was ejected with five minutes to play after an exchange of elbows with ULL's Cedric Williams turned into an exchange of blows. With the ejection comes an automatic one game suspension which will keep the Owls starting center out of Monday Night's critical WAC matchup with Fresno State.

The Owls won the game at the free throw line, as the Owls made 25 of 32 shots from the charity stripe, while the Cajuns only had five foul shots the entire game. The foul differential did not seem to be any result of referee favoritism though, as the Cajuns were all over the Owls, with one errant elbow cutting point guard Rashid Smith's lip so bad you could see his teeth. ULL played very aggressive defense, and looked to run early and often and nearly overwhelmed the Owls with a 19- 2 run early in the game. The Owls looked like they had not recovered from Midterm Week as the Owls had ten turnovers and hit just 5 of their first 15 shots. But the Owls got under control and chipped away at the lead, and ended the half with a 7-0 run to pull within five.

The second half saw another quick Cajun start rebuild their lead to ten points at 51-41, but then the Owls superior execution took over as they went on a 17-2 run. ULL kept battling, and tied the game at 68 with a minute and a half to play. The Owls answered when Jamaal Moore was fouled and sunk both free throws to put the Owls up by two with a minute to play. On the next possession, Moore stole the ball and took it the length of the court to put the Owls up by four and they

Michael Harris put up his 14th double-double with 27 points and 14 rebounds, and Jason McKreith chipped in 20 points as well to lead the Owls.

The Houston Chronicle ran two stories on the game. The game story focuses on the fight, the foul differential, and has some Willis Wilson quotes on the importance of this game to both teams. The more interesting story comes from columnist Dale Robertson who says the win is meaningless if the Owls don't win the WAC Tournament.

Robertson focuses on how the Owls are unlikely to return to NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1970 unless they get the automatic bid by winning the WAC Postseason Tournament March 9-13th. Even though 20 wins looks like a lock for the 18-7 Owls, their two losses two weeks ago to UTEP and Boise State crushed their RPIs and make an at-large bid unlikely (although not impossible).

Rice has five WAC games remaining, but only one of them, a huge game at Hawaii (17-7, 9-4) on February 29th has much hope of helping their RPIs. The other four games including games at cellar dwelling San Jose State (6-18, 1-13) and SMU (10-14, 4-10) and home games Monday against Fresno State(12-12, 8-6), and the Home finale March 4 against Louisiana Tech (13-11, 7-7).

The Owls know they cannot look past anyone, and winning at Hawaii will be very tough. But, if they can finish with a 5-0 run, then a 23-7 Owl team heading into the WAC tournament may merit strong at large consideration. But they gotta win. Here's another article I found summarizing WAC team chances at postseason play.

Just two weeks ago, the Owls were angry when their Bracket Buster game was announced as a pay-per-view only affair, and it affected their performance as they were embarrassed by 40 at UTEP, and played a stinker of a loss against Boise State. They need to ignore what they can't control, and come out fighting again on Monday night. Hopefully, this physical game will be the wakeup shot the Owls needed to pickup their game and get to the Big Dance.

Owl Ace Niemann Suffers First Loss in Two Years 

Owls ace pitcher Jeff Niemann (0-1) suffered his first loss since April of 2002, as the Owls lost 3-1 to Arizona State (8-2) in the final game of the Coca Cola Classic at Reckling Park.

Niemann was sharp, only giving up four hits over seven innings, but the last hit was a Travis Buck 2 run home run in the top of the sixth. And the Owls bad which had been white hot entering the game, completely fizzled against Sun Devil pitcher Jason Urquidez. Urqidez shut down the Owls with a complete game 3-hitter. Down 3-0 in the ninth, the Owls rallied for a run with two outs in the ninth as Matt Ueckert singled home Chris Kolkhorst, but Urquindez buckled down and got Adam Rogers to pop up to the catcher for the final out.

The loss ruined what was otherwise a very nice weekend for the Owls.

On Friday night, Sophomore walk-on Matt Moake celebrated his first (of what looks to be many) college start with a home run and 5 RBI to lead the Owls to a 13-5 thumping of Wake Forest. The offense provided smooth sailing for Philip Humber (1-0), who was dominant through five scoreless innings, allowing just a single hit, no walks and striking out nine Demon Deacons. Up 10-0 after five, Humber handed the lead over to the bullpen, who again looked a little shaky as sophomore Eddie Degerman gave up four runs in an inning and a third. But Garrett Pennington came in with one out and one on and stuffed the Deacons rally, pitching a scoreless inning and two-thirds for the Owls.

Saturday, Wade Townsend continued his white-hot start for the Owls by shaking off a first inning homer to post an easy 9-2 win over Cal State Northridge (4-8). Townsend (1-0) gave up his first two earned runs of the year on the home run, but then went on to scatter 5 hits and 3 walks through eight innings to earn the win. The game was close until the Owls blew things open with a four run ninth. The final boxscore looked dominating as the Owls gathered fifteen hits and eight walks but also left 14 men on base. Matt Moake was again the offensive star, going 3-3 with 3 runs scored.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Flipping Birds at Yankee Fans 

I went to go look to see if Curt Schilling had posted anymore great stuff on the Sons of Sam Horn board, only to find that his thread "Lets talk baseball, real baseball" is gone. And that's a shame. But the site does allow you to search by poster, and I found a few recent gems from Curt Schilling's "Gehrig38".

First, was this beauty about the ARod to Yankees trade rumors (the post is before it became official). Click here to read the whole response.

It's another challenge, but after 85 years did any of you think that getting over this final hurdle and winning it all was gonna be a cake walk? No, it'll be more fun this way. This way, when we do win it all, and you all are out there flipping birds back and forth with Yankee fans, you'll be smiling a whole lot wider.

Yes, Curt Schilling is promoting "flipping birds" to Yankee fans. That is beautiful. I think I feel a tear trickling from my eye.

And in late January, in response to an ESPN article claiming that Schilling faces the most pressure in 2004, Schilling writes as Gehrig38:

So yes, there is a ton of pressure on me to have a great season, but that pressure from you, from the media, is immeasurably smaller than the pressure I put on myself to do those very things. I love it, I welcome it, most players do, it's what you play for.

Think what you will about Curt Schilling, but you've got to like a guy willing to lay it out there for you like that. Pressure? Sure! Bring it on!

You've got to be getting pumped about the baseball season, when you read stuff like this coming straight from a player to you, the fan. Even if it is coming for someone who plays for the Red Sox. I'm looking forward to taking out the Yankees or the Red Sox in the ALCS and flipping birds at all their fans, the national media, and maybe a bird or two at our own naysayers who never thought the M's had a chance. Bring em on!

Chat About M's Prospects 

Jim Calis at Baseball America has a Live Chat focusing on Mariners prospects beginning at 2pm PST today.

For more entertaining BA reading, here is their review of how the 2003 Mariner Top Prospects fared in their 2003 Wrapup.

As I mentioned, the USS Mariner updated their Future Forty today.

And, of course, you should bookmark Mariner Minors as an excellent resource for all M's minor league news.

Spring is the time to go prospecting!

Spring Brings Out the Optimist in All of Us... Almost 

Ahh... spring is in the air! Flowers blooming, sun shining, and the thoughts of men and women, both young and old, turn to love... and baseball!

Yes, its finally here! Pitchers and catchers report today! It is during this wonderful time that even the most pessimistic bloggers can find hope that their beloved team can put their diatribes against the front office behind them, and look ahead to a season of excitement and glory culminating in a World Series victory, preferably crushing the Yankees somewhere along the way. Spring Fever seems to have affected the M's blogosphere already...

Jeff at The Safe reveals his Inner Optimist as he dreams of good things happening to Griffey, the M's and even A-Rod. Ahoy the SS Mariner features a touching ode to Spring that had me hungry for Skittles and beer.

Some are not ready to dive in, but are just dipping their toe into the pool of optimism. The Sons of Buhner have publicly stated that Bavasi is not the worst GM. Jeff at San Shin is already envisioning the next big bat that the Mariners could trade for, and this one, while not fast, is not a lifeless piece of ash or maple. Sodo Oh No reflects on great games they have seen in the past and reminds us that "you just never know what you'll see when you go to the ballpark." Raging optimism? No. But signs of hope abound.

Even the fellas at USS Mariner have put up their pessimist pens for a few days, and updated the best source of optimism for the Mariners franchise in the beloved Future Forty. But nowhere on the Future Forty is the man who has inspired both Steve's Mariner Wheelhouse and Jim's Cracking the Safe... the future immortal Bucky Jacobsen, who at age 28, ripped up the AA Southern League to the tune of a 952 OPS. Oh, and did I mention he's a right-handed first baseman? I think I'm in love... Count me as a Bucky Backer. The Grand Salami also jumped on the Bucky bandwagon, but they remind us that there is also this little fella named A.J. Zapp to consider.

Some of the most pessimistically named blogs are even feeling some optimism this Spring, even if its source is questionable. At Least the Red Sox Have 1918 have boldly predicted their team will be in the World Series. Unfortunately, their team at this moment is the Cubs, but its optimism regardless! Fire Bavasi is similarly excited by a trade.

Of course, the PI blog takes the pragmatic approach, providing links to guide you through Spring Training. And Ivy at From Basketball to Baseball provides a similar guide to Springtime in Peioria.
Both useful as you head off to watch the Boys of Summer in the Arizona heat.

Alas, not all is rosy in the M's blogosphere. Peter at Mariner Musings had to rant one last time about the thorns before he can move on to enjoy the roses. The folks at Sports and Bremertonians are still lamenting the sufferings of Seattle sports fans (maybe I'm an optimist because I remember the Sonics 1979 Championship and all the cheering that went up at my Little League game while it was going on). And Dave's Mariners Page is sure that the M's can be blamed for the downfall of Western Civilization.

Finally, Trent (the artist formerly known as MsFan4Life_24) is focused on his offseason letdown and gets in one last dig at Bavasi and yours truly (though calling Shawn Estes, Jeff Fassero and Royce Clayton good signings is not going to win over the casual fan or the statarazzi).

A few other blogs have not been bitten by the optimist bug yet, but hope Springs eternal that JAMB (heck, with a URL like edgarfan, we should see an Ode to Edgar in the Springtime soon), the Onesixteeners will end the rants and begin the raves, and even Bavasi Stinks will get bitten by Spring Fever, and wax poetic on their love and hopes for the M's in 2004. Maybe even one of the intermittent blogs will chime in with a warm and fuzzy post, or a new blogger will emerge on the scene to remind us why we love baseball and our Seattle Mariners.

Beginning next week, to celebrate the beginning of Spring, your Mariner Optimist will begin publishing the Glass Half Full Previews. This position by position breakdown of the Mariners will focus on what went right and wrong last year, what happened this offseason, and what to expect for 2004 and beyond. I hope you enjoy it. Now, get outside, smell the roses, throw the baseball around, and get ready for an exciting season that will end with your Seattle Mariners pouring champagne on Bill Bavasi's shiny dome, and a tear-filled Edgar hoisting the World Series Trophy.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

2004 Arbitration Scoreboard Complete 

And now it is complete. With Gagne's arbitration loss, and assuming Pujols and the Cardinals finalize their 7 year, $100 million dollar contract, the arbitration season is over.

26 players have filed for salary arbitration in 2004. Of those, seven actually went to arbitration with three winning. The winners wer David Eckstein, Jack Wilson, and A.J. Pierzynski. All middle-tier position players. The losers were Eric Gagne, Johan Santana, Chris Reitsma, and Nick Johnson: two stud pitchers, a rising closer, and an ex-Yankee bat. So we have learned that even the best pitchers are risky and should avoid arbitration as past performance of similar pitchers probably goes all over the place. Mediocre middle infielders and catchers should go to arbitration as they can point to their defensive skills. First basemen cannot.

Of those 19 players signing, 9 split right down the middle, 5 signed for above the midpoint and 5 for below the midpoint. Of the five who signed for more than the midpoint, only J.C. Romero did not receive a multiyear contract, so owners showed their saavy. If you are going to lose, get multiple years, which maybe turns those player wins into player losses long-term.

Its a small sample size, but it looks to me like Placido Polanco would have won his arbitration case, and made a mistake signing, and that most of those who signed were wise to do so, even if it was marked as a Signed/Lost.

Here is a summary of the 2004 arbitration filings, my predicted result, and the actual results, with links to stories with more information about their deals.

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)LOST
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)WON
Melvin MoraBAL1,7253,3002,400900Win(OPS>900)Signed/Won (3yr/$10.5M)
Vicente PadillaPHI4252,9502,350600Win(Consistent)Signed/Lost (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/Won (2yr/$4,950)
David EcksteinANA4252,1501,600550Loss(.325 SLG,OBP)WON(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!)WON(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/Won(1yr/820K)
Damian RollsTB300900700200Win(TB luck)Signed/Split

For comparison, here is a look at 2003, which was the year of the starting pitcher. 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.

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.

Here's the full list for 2003...

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

All of the arbitration request information came from Doug Pappas, SABR Business of Baseball Committee, and I highly recommend bookmarking his site since the only place I know of to get this kind of data.

Rice gets big wins in Basketball, Baseball 

Its a great time to be a fan of the Owls. Pick a sport, any sport...

Last night, the Owls paid back the Nevada Wolf Pack (16-8, 10-5) with an 87-75 victory behind Michael Harris' 11th double-double of the season. Harris scored 18 pts and pulled down 14 rebounds while Jason McKreith added 18 and Brock Gillespie and Rashid Smith chipped in 16 apiece.

The victory was payback for a 25-point defeat earlier in the year in Nevada. The win moves the Owls to 17-7 on the season and into a four-way tie for first place in the WAC with a 9-4 record.

Rice now hosts the Ragin' Cajuns of Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday, Feb. 21 at noon, as part of ESPN's Bracket Buster Saturday. Unfortunately, the Owls recent slump knocked this game off of ESPN2, but it can be seen on ESPN's subscription Full Court Package.

ESPN now has a feature called Bubble Watch, where Rice is listed as on the bubble along with Hawaii, Nevada, and UTEP. They write:

If you thought the WAC was wide-open before Wednesday night, check out the standings today. Three teams -- UTEP, Hawaii and Rice -- are locked atop the standings at 9-4, while Nevada sits at 10-5. Nevada lost at Rice on Wednesday, while Hawaii lost at Boise State (a loss it couldn't afford at this point of the season). None, however, are in the top 40 of the RPI. That means the conference tournament will likely determine who dances. The Owls (17-7) host Louisiana Lafayette on Saturday in the Bracket Buster. Even beating Southern Illinois on Saturday in the Bracket Buster won't help Hawaii nearly as much as it could have before losing to the Broncos. The Warriors play at UTEP (18-6) next Tuesday and end the season at Nevada and Fresno State. As for the Wolf Pack, two of its final four games are at home, including a game against Toledo on Saturday. The Miners, meanwhile, finish with three on the road.

And on Tuesday, the baseball team won the first of their five games with crosstown rival Cougar High, beating them 8-4. Junior Josh Baker picked up his second win of the year. In an interesting twist, Wade Townsend came in to squelch a two on, two out rally in the eighth and put up a 1-2-3 ninth on the way to his first save as an Owl. This looks like a temporary solution to bolster a bullpen that has missed its championship closer, David Aardsma, who is now in the San Francisco Giants organization. Townsend is still scheduled to start on Saturday.

Rice next plays three games this weekend as they host the Coca-Cola Classic Tournament at Reckling Park. Jeff Niemann returns to the hill in an attempt to keep his unbeaten streak alive against Wake Forest (0-0) Friday night at 6pm. On Saturday, Wade Townsend returns to his starter role against Cal State Northridge (4-6) Saturday at 2:30. Note the time change of the Saturday game so as to not conflict with the Rice basketball game. And, on Sunday, Philip Humber gets his 2004 debut (11-3, 3.30 ERA last year) against 2003 College World Series participant Arizona State (6-1) at 2:30. All Rice baseball games can be heard through the Internet at www.ktru.org or www.tsrnsports.com. And all Rice home games are televised over the Internet via the subscription service OwlVision at www.maxvu.tv.

Junior Adam Morris was named WAC Player of the Week last year after his 4-8 showing in the Minute Maid Classic including a grand slam against Kansas State.

Heck, even the 22nd ranked tennis team is kicking butt for the Owls right now, opening the season 7-0 including back-to-back wins over #3 Stanford and #11 California. Brian McTaggert's weekly update in the Houston Chronicle has all the details.

And the ladies are getting into the act, with an 8-game basketball winning streak to run their record up to 14-7, 11-1 in WAC play. They have two weeks and four games against teams with losing records to go until their rematch with sixth-ranked Louisiana Tech, who they upset earlier this year. The Lady Owls now have an outside shot at pulling out a tournament bid, but will likely need to defeat the Lady Techsters on March 2nd, or beat them in the WAC tournament.

MBSBL Update: LIMA Time! 

And no, I don't mean Jose. Most players of Rotisserie baseball are probably familiar with Ron Shandler's LIMA plan for drafting a rotisserie team. LIMA stands for Low Investment Mound Aces. The crux of the theory is: pitching is too hard to predict, so allocate your budget to acquire a lot of hitting and inexpensive pitchers with good skills.

Well, for MBSBL, I attempted to adapt that theory to my own LIMA plan. In this case, it stands for Low Inning Mound Aces. Just as in Shandler's plan, I allocated most of my budget (early draft picks) toward offense, and have built a fairly formidable one. Now, that I am grabbing starting pitchers, I am looking for "bargains", pitchers with low OPS against, low WHIP, high k/9 that have been overlooked because they are not traditional stud pitchers. But they are eligible to be starters in Diamond Mind. So my three starters(BA/OBP/SLG/OPS,WHIP,ERA) are Tony Armas Jr. (225/274/387/661, 1.06, 2.61), Eric Dubose (222/295/352/647, 1.16, 3.82), and now Oscar Villarreal (222/306/310/616, 1.29, 2.57).

Oscar Villarreal? Yes, since my pick of Rheal Cormier in Round 13, the rules have changed. After I questioned whether Fire Bavasi would even get to use Johan Santana and Octavio Dotel as starters, the Commish of MBSBL came out with the following update to the FAQ. Some more digging uncovered that anyone who started a single game could be a starter in MBSBL. So, while Dotel was stuck as a reliever, Santana was allowed to start.

Of course, I discovered all this back on Tuesday, and quickly did some research to see how I could take advantage of this, and that's when my breath caught - Byung Hyun Kim, with his line of 221/288/341/629, 1.12, 3.31 could be a starter! My one fear is that Diamond Mind might not let these reliever-starters go 7,8, or 9 innings, but a look at Kim's game log dispelled this fear as most of his starts were 7+ innings in length (and now that the Sox have Foulke, he looks to be a hidden gem of a starter in Boston, and may be their secret weapon in the battle to destroy the Evil Empire). I also discovered two other pitchers, Villarreal, and Scot Shields (247/297/370/668, 1.19, 2.86). Shields also had some deep starts, but his OPS against and WHIP was not as strong as Kim's.

So I waited. And waited. And waited, for two agonizing days as the painfully slow round 14 finished, and round 15 picked up steam. I really feared Sodo Oh No or San Shin would grab all the goodies before it got back to me, and imagine my delight when they picked up Eddie Guardado, Kevin Gregg (another solid LIMA pick, but his 676 OPS against was nowhere near Kim's), Matt Mantei, and Joe Borowski! I left work yesterday thinking that Kim was mine.

Then, I got home, checked the draft, and my hopes were dashed by Cracking the Safe! Damn! So that left me a decision... did I take Oscar Villarreal and his superior numbers or Scot Shields and his lower WHIP. Oscar Villarreal had just ONE start last year, and he didn't even make it out of the third inning. But that's enough to qualify him as a starter. In the end, I decided to go against the grain and pick up the low inning guy with the lower SLG against, and see what happens, knowing full well that Fire Bavasi would likely take whomever I did not claim (and sure enough, he did), since they needed another starter and were the reason this ruling came to light.

So, here I am with three starting pitchers with a combined 16 starts between them last year. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. On the way back in the 15th round, I debated grabbing the LIMA pick that San Shin had predicted I would take in Cliff Lee, but I think I may need to get some less risky guys to balance my roster, and right now, I have about 9 starters who I rate approximately the same. Meanwhile, relievers were going fast and I decided I needed a righty to pair up with Rheal Cormier as setup men to John Smoltz. Ryan Wagner was the most dominant righty on the board with a stellar 551 OPS against and righties with a meager 448 OPS against looks like a perfect pairing with Cormier.

So, once again, Cracking the Safe steals my player (first it was Mark Redman), and I'm left with a very high risk pitching staff. I think next round I'll just pick up some more hitters. Its a shame we can't draft ballparks to play in, I'd grab Coors in a heartbeat.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Responding to the Challenge Revisited 

I received quite a few emails, a couple of comments, and this critique from San Shin from my post responding to the challenge of finding a GM who had a worse offseason than the Mariners. I wanted to take this opportunity to review some of these comments and to respond en masse.

Jeff at San Shin summarizes the offseason angst nicely, and whether my post really addresses the issue...

Let me pose the question in a different way: Is there a GM in the big leagues that has done as poor a job as Bavasi, relative to the resources they've been given to work with? This is the larger issue for me and, I suspect, for most M's fans. And I don't think there's really any question that there isn't one.

Hmmm... John Hart is an obvious example. Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd? Former GMs of the Dodgers and Orioles are others. I feel strongly that the offseason was not the bust its painted to be, and that its the collective bashing by columnists and bloggers over what are mostly minor moves that make it seem so bad. Admittedly, the M's need a PR person to control Lincoln and Bavasi statements to the press about how we are going to spend money. They speak as if they are trying to inspire this backlash they've created. But looking at the moves themselves, I still feel we are in good shape and have improved the team, and have the resources to improve it further as the season goes on.

Similarly, I received an excellent letter from Hans Abraham Ward who describes himself as "a disgruntled optimist."

I admire your effort in trying to see the silver lining in this offseason, but I think you are missing the point.

Bavasi has been criticized (and justly so) for making some really stupid moves. You compare his moves to those by several other general managers around the league. But there is a big difference between Bavasi’s moves and these other moves. The majority of those other moves involve letting local stars leave, and having to replace them with someone of lesser stature, and a smaller paycheck. Bavasi's situation is different, because he had money to work with all along, and presumably was trying to improve the team. When you look at the deals Bavasi made, and the money he committed because of them, it becomes very hard to justify the majority of them.

Let me first respond that I do get it. I understand why we have all the angst - when you want Tejada and Vlad and you get Ibanez, Spiezio, and Aurilia, there is bound to be some disappointment. Then a division rival gets Vlad and you are even more discouraged. With my post, I did not intend to compare Bavasi's moves to those of every other GM (most who have lesser resources) as I only called out 1 or 2 GMs by name. I was trying to remind fans that even with a disappointing offseason, that our offseason moves are still better looking than those of 60% of the league. It was a reminder to keep our perspective - the core of our team is intact, our pitching depth is incredible, and our offense and, dare I say it, chemistry, is improved. We have the talent to win the AL West and the World Series.

Hans then goes on to break down the bad moves Bavasi has made. Let me attempt to address each one in turn.

Starting with the Colbrunn for McCracken deal. I haven't seen anyone anywhere call this a good deal. One of the biggest needs for the M's right now is a slugger who can relieve/platoon with Olerud. A healthy Colbrunn would have fit that bill. McCracken doesn't seem to fill any need of ours whatsoever... and he will cost just as much as Colbrunn.

Statistically, there is no question that this trade was a bad idea especially since there was no salary swap. I figure that the following factors played a part. First, Greg Colbrunn was NOT healthy last year and will turn 35 this season. These are not factors condusive to continued success with the bat. Meanwhile, Quinton McCracken is one year removed from a 309/367/458 2002 season for the Diamondbacks when he was last with Mr. Melvin. Add in that he can back up Randy Winn in the outfield, and that he is Winn's best friend and he seems like a good fit for the 4th or 5th OF role. I don't love this deal, but then again I don't think its the downfall of our team.

The Ibanez signing. Ibanez may or may not be an offensive improvement over Cameron. Does he help the team more than Cameron would have? That may be argued. I have seen a lot of convincing analysis suggesting he doesn’t. But the real problem with this is the contract. The Mariners are paying him at least double what other teams are paying players of similar caliber. Why? And why sign Ibanez when there were plenty of better outfielders available for less money?

As I wrote here, I agree that the M's erred in the size of the contract, but they did so by trying to be aggressive and set the market for outfielders, which is the kind of mistake I appreciate. Unfortunately, they set it too high. But I disagree that there were plenty of better outfielders available. The other outfielders either come with significant health or attitude risks.

All these pitchers: Kevin Jarvis, Ron Villone, Mike Myers, Terry Mulholland. Why? Do they really think these guys will do better than the prospects we have in our system right now? Why block those prospects’ improvement? Why commit money to free agents who have a proven track record of failure?

Most of the prospects spent last year in AA, and most are slated to be starters who will be better served pitching full-time in AAA then in taking the long relief role that has Jarvis' name all over it. Villone is interesting in his versatility, and the others are minor league contracts that could pan out in nice bullpen arms, but are most likely headed as organizational filler. I think that Villone and Jarvis may very well be fighting for the same roster spot, with the loser cut or traded early in the year. Wait and see what happens with this group before you pan it, but at this time of year, you can never have too much pitching!

Most people have referred to the Guillen/Aurilia situation as essentially a trade. That’s not what it was. Bavasi picked up Aurilia as a free agent and then traded Guillen for garbage. I think a better GM could have gotten more in exchange for Guillen, or let Guillen split time at 3rd allowing Spiezio to be the roving infield backup that the Mariners have become accustomed to using.

Time will tell whether the young guys received for Guillen was garbage. But in essence we signed Guillen at free agent rates, and then found a better free agent. Guillen would not have been happy as a backup, and at $2.5M would have been pretty pricy to keep as a backup. And as a starter, he either would have gotten hurt, or somehow been healthy and reached his PA incentives to kick his contract up to $3.4M or about the same amount given to Aurilia. All accounts have Aurilia as a key force in the Giants clubhouse as well as putting up similar or better stats to Guillen. Most accounts on Guillen list him as Freddy's drinking buddy capable of getting a DUI. We had no long-term interest in Guillen with Lopez coming up, and with 2005 free agents including Nomar and Orlando Cabrera, so why not dump him. Could we have gotten more? Doubtful since Detroit was the only team with interest, and his salary was not a bargain by any stretch.

Signing Guardado may have been Bavasi’s least disgracefull move but at the same time he let Rhodes go. I think most would argue that in the recent past Rhodes has been a better pitcher, and will likely continue to be more dominant in the future. I understand that they will be receiving similar pay for this year, and in the following years Guardado will be making more than Rhodes.

Rhodes got his trial as a closer last year and failed. Few closers have been as dependable as Eddie. With Kazu's healthy and willingness to play shaky, the M's decided to go for the more sure thing. I do believe they overpaid for Eddie, but the M's like to overpay for closers, probably due to horrible Ayala and Slocumb flashbacks, and at least he wasn't as costly as Sasaki.

People have praised Bavasi for getting rid of Cirillo. Well he got rid of him alright, but he ended up worse off than if we had just kept Cirillo. Cirillo actually played decent defense and only took up one roster spot. The players we acquired for Cirillo will not augment the team at all, will cost the team just as much as Cirillo, and will take up more roster spots, detracting from our flexibility during the year, and hindering our ability to protect promising prospects.

Our one major change after winning 116 games in 2001 - we dropped David Bell for Jeff Cirillo, who not only couldn't hit, but his moody presence had to be a downer for the rest of the club. Essentially we lost ONE 25-man roster spot for Kevin Jarvis & Dave Hansen replacing Cirillo. Wiki will be in the minors where he has a last chance to revive his once somewhat promising career. We gave up Brian Sweeney but gained about $1M in flexibility in the process. Hansen has been a solid pinch-hitter for years, and Jarvis would be signed by most teams, just for a much smaller salary. But most importantly, we no longer have Mr. Furious roaming the clubhouse and envisioning our manager naked. Replacing him with Scott Spiezio, who will be the next Bret Boone, only makes it sweeter.

So, Hans, our worst moves were replacing a guy who got 58 ABs last year, overpaying a left fielder, and not being able to get great return on hard-to-trade commodities. Meanwhile, we have resigned our entire pitching staff at good prices, given ourselves lots of bullpen options, and added pop (and removed defensive range) to the left side of our defense. Sure, we all wanted to get Tejada, but the price got too high, and he was truly the only good fit for us among the big bats out there. Maybe we should have outbid Baltimore for his services? Time will tell, but history of long-term contracts is certainly on the M's side. I think time will tell that these moves (and the ones yet to come) were sufficient to revamp the M's, win the AL West and eventually win the World Series. The rest of the blogosphere act as if every move was worse than our season is already over and we'll be battling the Rangers for fourth, and that's ridiculous.

Oh yeah, add John Hart to the list of GM's who are unquestionably worse than Bavasi.

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