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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