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Friday, March 05, 2004

National Pastime Day 

Tyler at Athletics Nation has come up with an interesting idea. Lets make Opening Day in baseball a National Holiday. He has called it National Pastime Day. Unlikely to ever happen, and I'm sure that their are lots of better causes to get behind, but what the hey, the baseball fan in me loves the idea. A day dedicated to kicking off Spring in full force, watching baseball with your kids, and besides, I like the speech that Tyler gave Bush to give...

"My fellow Americans, there has been one steady, relentlessly binding fabric to our nation. One element that has held us strong and brought us joy through good times and bad. It unites us in our differences and brings us together. Its wondrous history gave rise to the majesty of Ruth, the tragic yet heart-wrenching words of Gehrig and the still amazing resiliency of Mr. Jackie Robinson. One day a year I propose that we stop and reflect on all the moments of baseball history that have brought father and son, mother and daughter and generations together. This is a day when I encourage parents to go out in their yard or local park and throw the ball around and remember the glory and joy that is our National Pastime. I give you, National Pastime Day."
Don't know how practically this would work, but damn it, I'm a baseball fan, I don't care about practicality! Write your Congressman, and lets all get a day off in 2005 so we can go to the ballpark!

Seattle Signs a Big Butt 

Okay, so its not a big bat for the Mariners, but Seattle sports fans have to be excited. Your Seattle Seahawks signed Rams stud defensive end Grant Wistrom to a 6-year, $33M contract that includes a $14M signing bonus, the largest bonus ever paid by the Seahawks.

Wistrom should provide the pass rush that has been lacking in Seattle for years, and may be the final piece in the Seahawks championship puzzle. In fact, this optimist predicts this will be a banner year for Seattle sports fans, as the Seahawks and Mariners will both take home titles (heck, Gonzaga may too for that matter, if they can get by the pesky Rice Owls).

Wistrom had 7 1/2 sacks last year and has 41 1/2 in his career. Another bonus is that the Rams wanted him back, so we not only got stronger but our main rival in the division got weaker. Sweet!

Compare Wistrom's contract with the 5-yr, $30M contract that Dan Snyder gave to ex-Seahawk Shawn Springs, and you gotta like the way the Hawks are spending their money. Now if they can manage to retain Darrell Jackson and tackle Cedric Woodward, it will be an A++ offseason.

Wistrom was considered the 2nd best pass rusher on the market behind Jevon Kearse, but his contract is half the size of Kearse's. Throw in that Wistrom has no health issues, and is considered stronger against the run, and you can see why the Mariner Optimist is a Seahawk Optimist as well.

Interestingly, defensive end Marcellus Wiley arrived in the area yesterday, and although Seattle signed Wistrom, Seahawks GM Bob Ferguson said Wiley will still meet with team officials today. Now, wouldn't that be something...


Mariners lose Charity Opener to Padres 3-2
Rett Johnson walks first three batters he faces and this is an improvement from his first outing last year, when he beaned the first three guys at the plate. By next year, he'll be striking out the first three hitters and he'll be in the Show. Melvin shows sense of humor by telling reliever J.J. Putz when he is brought in, "It doesn't get any easier than this." Putz goes Nuke LaLouche on two photographers while warming up, driving them off the field with two pitches near their heads. The intimidation worked, as he got out of the bases-loaded no outs jam. Gil Meche gave up two runs on a 2nd inning walk a home run from Terrence Long. And Julio Mateo gave up a homer in the fifth. Jeff Cirillo played second base for the Padres, showing he will be their super-utility infielder. Edgar was scratched for Justin Leone due to wet grounds - take no chances with the Franchise. The new guys continued to flash the wood with Ibanez going two for two with a double and McCracken and Spiezio each driving in runs. Mike Myers pitches 1-2-3 inning getting lefties and righties out.


Your Mariners on TV
On Monday, March 8th at 11AM PST, ESPN will televise the Mariners vs Angels where we'll get our first gander at Vlad in an Angels uniform. Nice to have a tough division, and I reiterate that the Wild Card will once again come out of the AL West this year.


In News that Just Frustrates the Beejeezus Out of Me
Both the Rice Women AND Men lost to Louisiana Tech last night. The men fell 72-58 on Senior Night at home. Ouch. Rice (20-9, 11-6) now must win the WAC tournament in order to get a NCAA bid. And the way they have failed to show up for big games, makes me very nervous about this possibility. Hopefully, they can finish strong and beat SMU on Saturday to regain some momentum heading into the tournament. At this point, they have definitely put the press clippings of a month ago into long term storage and know they may not even get an NIT bid without a win or two in the WAC tournament.

The Lady Owls (18-8,15-2) put up the bigger fight, losing 82-70, but were up early, and battled the #6 team in the country to the end on their home court. The ladies should get a chance at a rematch in the WAC tournament, and will likely also need to win the tournament to get a NCAA bid.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Big Night for Rice Basketball 

The Lady Owls hope to show that their early-season win over #6 Louisiana Tech is not a fluke, as they travel to Ruston, La. to take on the 22-2 Lady Techsters. The Owls have won 12 straight and now at 18-7 have an outside shot at an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. The Owls will likely get a third shot at LaTech in the WAC tournament that begins next week. A second (or even third!) win over LaTech could put the Owls back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time

At the same time, in the friendly confines of Autry Court, the 20-8 Men play in their home finale, also against Louisiana Tech (13-13). This will be the final home appearance for seniors Christian Kollik, Yamar Diene, and Rashid Smith.

Good luck to the Owls tonight!

Yesterday, the Owls baseball team rebounded from their heartbreaking loss to UT on Tuesday and defeated Sam Houston State 4-3 at Reckling Park. The Owls used all four of their big pitchers on Tuesday (Wade Townsend got a pinch hit appearance), so Lance Pendleton got to make his first appearance on the mound this season, and he got the win over the 4-7-1 Bearkats. Garrett Pennington got his first save with 3.1 innings of two-hit relief.

The Owls play a weekend series at home against Texas State, before getting a rematch against Texas at home on March 9.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

"Glass Half Full" Preview - FIRST BASE 

The Glass Half Full Previews takes 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

First base in Seattle for the past three years has meant one player, the man in the batting helmet, John Olerud. But the Olerud era is most likely entering its final year and with the way Mariner fans bemoaned the loss of Greg Colbrunn, one might think that the time for transition is NOW. So lets fill up our glasses, and take a dip into the Mariners FIRST BASE position.

What Did We See in 2003:
First base in Seattle was manned for the fourth straight year by the Quiet Man, John Olerud. Olerud signed a 2 year, $15.4M deal coming into the season. The Mariners then signed Greg Colbrunn to a 2 year, $3.6M deal with the intention of using him as a platoon partner for Olerud and as the future DH after what was thought to be Edgar's final year. Mariners vice president Lee Pelekoudas called Colbrunn "our No. 1 priority after we got past signing our own free agents." So how did it turn out? Not so good...

Player             G  AB  R   H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS 

John Olerud 152 538 64 145 35 0 10 83 83 67 0 1 .270 .371 .390 .762
Greg Colbrunn(1B) 14 45 5 13 1 1 2 6 1 12 0 1 .289 .304 .489 .793
Greg Colbrunn 22 58 7 16 1 1 3 7 4 16 0 1 .276 .323 .483 .805
John Mabry(1B) 9 20 1 2 1 0 0 1 1 3 0 0 .100 .143 .150 .293
John Mabry 64 104 12 22 6 0 3 16 15 21 0 0 .212 .328 .356 .684
TOTAL 162 604 70 160 37 1 12 90 85 83 0 2 .265 .361 .389 .750
It finally happened - John Olerud had an off year. And Greg Colbrunn, the man who was brought in to spell him, was out for most of the year with wrist and neck injuries after providing limited production. So the offensive production from first base was a disappointment. The good news from 2003 is that Olerud remains one of the best defensive first basemen in the majors, and was rewarded with his third Gold Glove.

Some fear that Olerud is entering decline phase of his career that sees his numbers begin to plummet like we have recently seen with 36 year old Roberto Alomar. Comparing his numbers over the past three years, could give credence to that idea.

Season AB  R   H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO  AVG  OBP  SLG  OPS

2001 572 91 173 32 1 21 95 94 70 .302 .401 .472 .873
2002 553 85 166 39 0 22 102 98 66 .300 .403 .490 .893
2003 539 64 145 35 0 10 83 84 67 .269 .372 .390 .762
It essentially looks like Johnny turned 12 home runs into outs. Could this be the beginning of the end as the 35-year-old Olerud sees his power decline dramatically? It could be, but lets first consider that John strained his right hamstring on June 29. Maybe he played through the pain, but the effects showed up in his statistics? Lets look at John's statistics pre-injury and post-injury.

Half   AB  R   H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO  AVG  OBP  SLG  OPS

1st 268 33 77 19 0 4 39 42 27 .287 .384 .403 .787
2nd 271 31 68 16 0 6 44 42 40 .251 .351 .376 .727
So his numbers did slip a bit from the hamstring injury, but probably not enough to soothe your thoughts. His first half average was still relatively light in power. In fact, his first half is very comparable to his good-not-great 2000 inaugural Mariner campaign when he put up 285/394/439/833 numbers.

I dug through my stats book and found several cases of 35-year-old decline similar to that of John Olerud. Craig Biggio was 35 in 2000 and saw his numbers drop from 294/380/457-837 to 268/370/393-763, only to rebound the following year to 292/360/455-815. Similarly, Vinny Castilla saw his age 34-36 numbers fluctuate from 260/305/467-772 down to 232/262/348-610 and back up to 277/310/461-771. So, this may very well be a brief dip, but we should not discount the possibility that the power Olerud displayed in 2001 and 2002 may never return.

Meanwhile, power outage or no, another weakness of Olerud's is his performance against lefties and 2003 was no exception.

Season/Split     AB   R   H 2B 3B HR RBI  BB  SO  AVG  OBP  SLG  OPS

2003 vs Left 155 11 37 11 0 0 23 15 30 .239 .318 .310 .628
2003 vs Right 384 53 108 24 0 10 60 69 37 .281 .392 .422 .814
And that problem has persisted his entire career as reflected in these 3-year splits
Season/Split     AB   R   H 2B 3B HR RBI  BB  SO  AVG  OBP  SLG  OPS

3yr vs Left 461 44 119 29 0 6 79 60 66 .258 .347 .360 .707
3yr vs Right 1203 196 365 77 1 47 201 216 137 .303 .409 .486 .895

Hot Stove Action:
There was no question that John Olerud was going to comeback in 2004, and that he would be counted on to rebound from his down 2003. John Mabry had a $1.5M option for 2004 with a $250,000 buyout. Unsurprisingly, the Mariners decided that 104 at bats of 684 OPS was not worth the million dollars. But the stunning move occurred when the Mariners traded Greg Colbrunn for Quinton McCracken and eliminated their ability to field a great hitter while resting Olerud against tough lefty pitching.

Over the past three years, Colbrunn had put up a pretty 317/366/603 split against lefties. Thats a pretty 969 OPS against lefties. Which is exactly why we acquired him for the 2002 season. Oh well, he's gone and that's that.

Going into the offseason, lefty-bashing bench help who could play 1B or LF were not a big priority. Because of this, the best choice for this role, Eduardo Perez, was allowed to take his HUGE 1075 OPS against lefties to Tampa Bay for 2 years and a meager $1.7 million. Perez was signed before the M's traded Colbrunn.

Later in the offseason, after the M's had filled their top priorities, and traded Colbrunn, they realized that a lefty-basher was desired for the bench. The M's made a run at Ellis Burks and his 948 OPS vs lefties, offering him $1.5M to be the big bat on the bench, but he accepted a smaller offer to return to the Red Sox. Injuries have limited Burks to DHing recently, so its unknown whether he could have been the solution as a replacement in 1B or left field.

One player who was available and might have made good sense for the Mariners to sign is Eric Karros, who has a 904 OPS vs lefties the past three years, and played in a platoon role for the Cubs last year before taking over the job outright. But Billy Beane saw the same thing, and signed Karros to a one-year, $1 - 1.5M contract to platoon at 1B for A's. So we will hope that Rob Neyer is correct when he writes that here, platoon splits may cause teams like the A's to rate Karros to high.

The Mariners say that they are done with free agent options. Andres Galarraga and his 851 OPS vs lefties might have been a good fit, but it would seem he needs to focus on his health instead of baseball.

So what other offseason moves might eventually find their way to first base? GM Bill Bavasi has mentioned newcomers Raul Ibanez and Scott Spiezio as both being able to fill in for Olerud, but neither are lefty-bashers. Spiezio at least puts up a reasonable 763 OPS vs lefties the last three years, but moving him to first opens a void at 3B. Willie Bloomquist sports a 740 OPS against lefties, so that is the logical choice, moving Spiezio to 1B.

No one on our currently projected bench hits lefties well. That list includes Dave Hansen who plays both 1B and 3B, but has been primarily used as a pinch hitter for 8 years. And look, the lefty Hansen has hit lefties to the tune of an 825 OPS over the past three years. Unfortunately, that is in 25 ABs. So finding a lefty-basher who can play 1B may be a continuing theme well into the season.


What's In Store for 2004:
The key question here is obviously whether John Olerud will rebound from his down 2003, or if that was the first step in a long plunge toward ineffectiveness.

Baseball Prospectus, has a method of projecting players based on historical data that they call PECOTA, and it projects the most the range of Olerud's 2004 to be between 242/344/355-699 and 319/420/513-933 with the most likely outcome a 277/379/427-806 line. Expert forecaster Ron Shandler at BaseballHQ predicts a 293/394/438-832 line for John.

A recent David Andriesen article quotes Paul Molitor feeling confident that only a few minor problems need to be addressed.

"The thing I noticed in his tape (from) last year is that he got a little bit rushed. Sometimes it looked like his setup was a little bit late and he'd come off that back side a little too quickly and lose some of his weight shift before he recognized what the pitch was. So he had trouble getting that ball out of the inside part of the plate.

"John's swing is still exceptional. We can show him some things that began to vary last year from what he'd done in the past. They're very subtle, very small, but enough to make a difference over the course of an entire season."
And when Olerud's not in there? Look for Bloomquist and Hansen to be the most likely candidates to spell Olerud against lefties early in the season, with mixed success. How they do in that role, may determine whether we see a minor league callup or trade.

Of our minor leaguers in camp, free agent minor league acquisition Bucky Jacobsen (952 OPS in AA) provides the most likely source of power against lefties, so expect him to get a long close look in Spring, and if he doesn't make the team, may be a midseason callup. The fact that Justin Leone is a righty may be another edge he has over Greg Dobbs for a bench role with the M's, but Dobbs might have the edge to be called up if Olerud were to be hurt. Either Dobbs or Leone could take the hot corner and move Spiezio over to 1B.

An inseason trade is also a realistic possibility. One player the M's could target would be Pirates C/1B/LF Craig Wilson who belts lefties to a sweet 1009 OPS. The Pirates currently have him in a part time role and could certainly use our pitching prospects. He could platoon with either Olerud or Ibanez in LF, and even act as a backup catcher if we were to trade Dan Wilson to that notorious collector of ex-Mariners, Lou Pinella. Other possibilities would include any of the potential free agents that I will discuss below.

If Olerud were to be injured for any length of time, I believe that one of the minor leaguers would initially be called up to take a full-time role and that the M's would explore trade options for some of the future free agents with more earnest.


Further Down the Road (2005 and beyond):
"I'm looking at this as my last contract, but as I say, you never know what will happen. In two years, things might change."
-- John Olerud, after signing a two-year, $15.4 million contract in December,2002
Until recently, it was assumed that John Olerud would retire after this season. But on February 27, in the Andriessen interview referenced above, John indicated that he plans on playing somewhere in 2005, and I'm sure he'd like to stay with the Mariners. Whether he will be back as a Mariner and whether he will expect to have a full-time role will depend on his performance this year. I would envision an incentive-laden one-year contract along the lines that Edgar has, but who knows what he might get on the open market.

If he is not back in a full-time role, then the flexibility the Mariners inherited by signing Scott Spiezio at 3B means that either a first baseman or a third baseman could replace Olerud in the lineup.

Here's a look at the most likely alternatives to a John Olerud return in 2005:

1) Free Agent third baseman with Scott Spiezio moving to 1B. I think this is the most likely place that Olerud's replacement would come from, as it could improve both the offense and the defense. Also, there are quite a few talented free agent third-baggers available which could make it a buyer's market. Eric Chavez or Troy Glaus would provide a big power bat, or Corey Koskie or Bill Mueller could hit for average. A gamble could be made that Aramis Ramirez or Adrian Beltre are ready to live up to their hype. Another interesting gamble would be to sign Aaron Boone to a 2-year deal THIS year, in hopes of getting his bat down the stretch, and moving him into 3B to start 2005.

2) Minor league 3B. Whether it will be Greg Dobbs or Justin Leone, I don't know, but one of these guys is gonna have a big year and force himself into the Mariner plans either this year or next year. Dobbs obviously will have some catching up to do after his lost 2003, but he cold step it up in San Antonio this year and jump back past the amazing Leone. Hunter Brown is near and dear to my heart as a Rice alumni, but he's looking at repeating Inland Empire at age 23, so he's a ways away. And non-prospect Matt Boone provides the M's with Boone depth, if nothing else.

3) Free Agent 1B Studs. This is the dream of many M's fans. Either Carlos Delgado or Richie Sexson would provide a big power improvement at first base. Sexson is a much more likely fit because he should be more affordable, and because the Diamondbacks will be less likely to try to keep Sexson than the Blue Jays with superstud Delgado.

4) Minor league 1B. If Bucky Jacobsen or A.J. Zapp hit well enough, they may earn a bench role, but it is unliikely that the M's would hand a full-time job to them, unless injuries forced it.


Glass Half Full Projection:
With Paul Molitor having Olerud's back, I'll be even more optimistic than BP and Shandler and look for John to crack a .300 batting average and a .400 OBP as he did in 2001-2 and go 300/400/450-850. I predict that the M's will bring up Justin Leone and Bucky Jacobsen at different times to be a bench bat used to spell Olerud.

With the Mariners winning the World Series, Olerud decides to join Edgar in retirement, and the Mariners sign Richie Sexson to a 4-year, $46M contract.


Other Links of Note:
Steve's Mariner Wheelhouse previews the Mariners infield and provides this assessment of first base:
In 2004 offensive performance at first base is likely to improve, whereas defensively there will be some decline.
Spring Training Updates:
3/4:Greg Colbrunn still not 100%. According to Arizona Republic, Colbrunn's wrist is not back to 100% but he still hopes it will be by Opening Day. ''It's coming back and it's something I'm going to have to deal with," he said, ''but my main goal is Opening Day. It's not feeling 100 percent right now, but it'll get there by the start of the season." The risk here may be a big reason why the M's were willing to deal Greg.
3/8:Dave Hansen comfortable in a pinch. Yes, but he is also not a great runner and squelched a Mariners rally by getting thrown out at home easily in the ninth inning of the Mariners 5-3 loss to the Angels. The Times has a Meet the Mariner piece on Hansen as well.


Next up: Second Base

Music For an Optimist 

Following Peter White's lead, I have taken the challenge as originally proferred by hiphopmusic.com:

Step 1: Open your MP3 [CD] player.
Step 2: Put all of your music on random.
Step 3: Write down the first 20 songs it plays, no matter how embarrassing.

I'll note that this is what I have at work, which is about 120 CDs from collection of around 500.

1. Tonic - Future Says Run
2. No Doubt - By the Way
3. Better Than Ezra - Cry In the Sun
4. Third Eye Blind - Darkness
5. Bob Seger - Rock & Roll Never Forgets
6. The Red Hot Chili Peppers - Under the Bridge
7. Beastie Boys - Time to Get Ill
8. Loverboy - Take Me to the Top
9. The Red Hot Chili Peppers - If You Have to Ask
10. Queen - I Want It All
11. Rod Stewart - Handbags and Gladrags
12. Berlin - Sex (I'm A...)
13. Live - Sparkle
14. Melissa Etheridge - Come to My Window
15. Bob Seger - You'll Accomp'ny Me
16. Garth Brooks - The River
17. Mary Chapin Carpenter - Is This Love
18. Warren Zevon - Looking For the Next Best Thing
19. Eric Clapton - Running on Faith
20. Bruce Springsteen - The Promised Land

Looking at this list (and getting over the embarassment of Loverboy showing up here), its kind of eerie in that it comes close to describing my experience as a blogger, and hopefully prognosticating our future.

The early songs remind me of the pessimistic bloggers out there. "Future Says Run", "Cry In the Sun", "Darkness", "Time to Get Ill" all sound like descriptions I've heard about our offseason.

So I decided to blog as the Optimist, saying "Rock & Roll Never Forgets", the Mariners will "Take Me to the Top" and "I Want it All."

I invite my fellow M's fans along for the ride("Come to My Window", "You'll Accomp'ny Me") as we remember our love for the Mariners and root our team along this season ("Is This Love", "Looking For the Next Best Thing", "Running On Faith")

And finally, you guessed it, the M's win it all and reach "The Promised Land."

Now, if I can just figure out how the "Sex" could possibly apply to me...

Ack! Rice, Niemann Blow 5-Run Lead to UT 

On a dreary, muggy day here in Austin, things were shaping up pretty good between the Owls and the Longhorns. After an hour rain delay, the Owls headed into the 7th inning with a 3-2 lead. With two outs and a runner on third, Lance Pendleton stepped into a pitch and took first against a cascade of boos. Then, pinch-hitter Kyle Gunderson worked a walk to load the bases. After a miscalled first pitch ball shook up UT reliever Brent Cox, third baseman Adam Morris jacked a grand slam into the left field seats to put the Owls up 7-2.

Owls ace Jeff Niemann had entered the game in relief of Josh Baker in the bottom of the fifth, and with a five run lead, the Owls looked like they were on their way to a sweet victory over the hated Longhorns.

Then, the wheels came off.

And the guy who took them off was a reserve dh named Hunter Harris, who twice in two innings hit two-run triples just past the diving Kyle Gunderson. Both times, it looked like Niemann gave him offspeed stuff instead of blowing him away with fastballs. After Niemann walked off dejected with the score tied, another ace, Phillip Humber, could not stop the bleeding and gave up the go-ahead single to some Texas guy. I was in a daze at that point, and before I knew what was happening, the game was over.

Yuck. I'm a little sick to my stomach - if you want to read more about the game, you can go here or here.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Pinch Me 

Les Carpenter wrote an interesting article on the difficulties of being a pinch-hitter, and some of the tricks of the trade that Dave Hansen has learned while becoming one of the top pinch hitters in the game.

Carpenter does nice work in summing up the pinch-hitter role...

It is an impossible job. Pinch-hitters rarely get to start, they almost never get to play regularly, even for a week. Thus, they never build the consistency that players desperately need. Instead, they sit on the bench for sometimes as long as three hours, shuffling their feet trying to stay warm, watching the pitchers, hoping to pick out some flaw, some fatal mistake they can exploit. They get cold. Then the manager screams their name, and they're in the game.

Hansen is fifth all-time with 129 pinch hits and seventh all-time with 14 home runs and may have been the key player received in the Jeff Cirillo trade.

"You know, I do get the sense in the whole trade that I was the one they wanted put into the deal," Hansen says. "That made me feel good."

What is interesting about Hansen to me is that last year, he stunk as a pinch-hitter, putting up an anemic 164/292/200 line in 65 plate appearances as a pinch-hitter. But, when he was called on to start, getting about 20 starts as the Padre 1B or 3B, he came through with a 333/430/472 line that looks very nice if Olerud or Spiezio should go down for a few days here or there. I will be interesting to see if Hansen is used in this way from time to time, ahead of Willie Bloomquist and his 628 OPS of 2003.

Of course, Hansen's 492 OPS as a pinch-hitter is still better than all five Mariners who had 5 or more pinch hit plate appearances including Edgar(400 in 5 PAs), McLemore(333/6), Davis(333/6), Bloomquist(310/9) and Mabry(270/27), so there is nowhere for the M's bench to go but up!

I don't think Dave Hansen will be the bench player that Stan Javier was in 2001, but I sure am happy to have him over Jeff Cirillo, in what should have been a more well-received trade by M's fans. Three guys with the promise of productivity and change to boot for a growing clubhouse cancer and a pitching prospect unlikely to play for us is a damn good deal in my book.

Monday, March 01, 2004

The Ibanez Landscape 

Surprise! I am the only M's blogger remotely optimistic about the chances of a Raul Ibanez being a good signing for the M's.

Bill Bavasi's defense of the Ibanez signing at Baseball Prospectus has brought out the Bavasi-bashers in droves. The optimism of Spring lived for approximately eight days. Apparently, the Mariner faithful can't bite their pens and allow us to enjoy a second week of Spring Training optimism. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted, and never fear, I will remain steadfastly optimistic about the Mariners winning the World Series in 2004. Its our year, and don't let the press or the blogs convince you otherwise. If nothing else its fun to see how the "other half" lives, so lets review the latest anti-Mariner-front-office entries...

We've already covered the Wheelhouse cries of Bavasistiltskin and my response.

DMZ at USS Mariner helped phrase the BP questions (setting him up nicely, I might add) for Bavasi, and says that the responses are like "watching a train wreck. If I was an M's fan, I'd subscribe to this and read it periodically instead of renting horror movies." Interestingly, I think Bavasi was trying to throw a bone to the BP guys, but did not realize he was just setting himself up for ridicule from the statarazzi.

I will say that the M's front office really needs a good PR guy to prep Bavasi and Lincoln before allowing them to speak in public. Interviews with BP require you to praise Moneyball, and regurgitate stats if you want to be admired by their premium subscribers. And continually referring to Cameon's strikeout problem is in poor taste. Lincoln & Bavasi should just let the results speak for themselves, because, as I know, you can't win over the statarazzi unless you've mathematically modeled baseball and actuarily dissected the players until they are reduced to a set of numbers, rather than a guy breaking down and reworking his swing (Go Big Ben!), or trying out a new pitch (Rock On, Jamie - you sweet ol' statistical outlier, you) - those things have no effect, c'mon, only your age and past results matter... Sorry, where was I?

Fire Bavasi is not nearly as upset as I had hoped, summing his reaction to the Q&A with "Not really the kind of stuff I'd like to hear from someone who should theoretically be one of the 30 smartest baseball men in the world, but nothing he said took me by surprise, either. "

John at Sodo Oh No actually thinks that the Baseball Prospectus boys come out sounding a little bitter in their latest "Triple Play" bit on the Mariners, and fears he may be "channelling the Mariner Optimist." Don't worry John, by season's end, everyone will be channelling the Optimist. Uh oh, that sounds a little dirty.

Peter White's perfectly titled Beating a Dead Horse Unconscious has him crying "God, I’m embarrassed" to be a Mariner fan because of the Raul Ibanez signing.

Even the new blog on the sphere, Edgar Is God, has a pessimistic Ibanez take.

Expecting Ibanez to have a breakout season that somehow prolongs through his mid-thirties like he's some Superhero that defies human logic, speaks volumes for the stupidity that is Mariners management. So is expecting Winn to somehow magically transform into a defensive player of Erstad's caliber. The fact that this is what its going to take to justify Ibanez’ contract, seriously scares me.
Amazingly, my favorite pessimists at Sports and Bremertonians have not chimed in on the Bavasi Q&A which tells me that they are not premium subscribers. They instead are set off by the Larry Stone article that fans the flames of offseason angst by doing an article on how Michael Tejada really wanted to be in Seattle. There was not one bit of new news in this article, but Larry has sensed where the tides of the Mariner fanbase are heading, and he's riding the wave of pessimisim. Well, of course Tejada would rather be with a team that's gonna win the World Series instead of being with the Orioles who will be lucky to finish 4th in the AL East. But in the end, Miguel wanted the bigger paycheck and the longer term sentence to Purgatory, ahem, I mean deal, and the M's are not going there. They don't need to.

Ichiro earns first bonus of the season 

Buried at the bottom of this MLB.com article on the first day of hitters reporting is this nugget.

Ichiro was taking bunting practice off a pitching machine when head trainer Rick Griffin, standing about 20 feet away, put his feet in a "V" formation and yelled, "Five bucks!" Ichiro bunted the pitch -- which already had been delivered by a pitching machine -- and it rolled directly into the "V".

Also on MLB.com is a Q&A with Howard Lincoln, which I'm sure the pessimists out there will pick apart. But here are some of the highlights from the mouth of Lincoln (again, emphasis is mine)

Overall, I am satisfied with what we've done, but we're not finished. We made a legitimate run at (Miguel) Tejada but couldn't sign him. There is a point where you have to fold your cards when it becomes silly and prevents you from doing other things that are critical... There is always this "big bat" thing. I think we tend to look at this as there were several holes to be filled and I think we filled most of them. Not all of them, but we still have money that can be spent and it remains to be see what happens during Spring Training and even the early part of the regular season.
And for those ready to jump on the Angels owner Arte Moreno bandwagon, Lincoln reminds us that...

He's not the first new owner that came into Major League baseball and spent a lot of money and promised his fans a lot of neat things. We'll see. Sometimes it's a roll of the dice, and maybe he rolled it correctly. It's his money. He has made a very, very significant outlay, or commitment, of future dollars to his Major League player payroll. A lot of money.
An obvious reference to Mr. Tom Hicks, who also opened up his wallet when he acquired the Rangers, and has bought himself a series of last place finishes. Most of us would love to have Vlad and Colon, but they are definitely risky contracts with no guarantee of success.

Owls Weekend 

Two big wins for Rice baseball this weekend, as the Owls defeated #17 North Carolina 8-2 on Friday, and #16 Nebraska 4-2 on Saturday.

Philip Humber won his second game of the season with a strong performance, giving up just two hits and two walks while striking out 11 Tar Heels in 7+ strong innings. Junior shortstop Paul Janish's 4-hit day led the Owls 14-hit attack.

On Saturday, Wade Townsend did his part, striking out ten, while scattering four hits and three walks over eight innings. The Owls rallied from a 2-1 deficit with two runs in the sixth with the help of a dropped fly ball, and Austin Davis' eighth inning home run provided a much needed insurance run for the Owls, who ran their record up to 7-2.

Sunday's game against Northwestern State was rained out.

Next up, Rice gets a rematch with the Longhorns here in Austin on Tuesday at 2:30pm. If you are at the game, I'll be the loud guy wearing a Rice championship baseball cap and a Mariners sweatshirt. Come by and say 'Hi'!


Rice basketball falls to Hawaii
The Owls basketball team did not have fresh legs, and the result was a sloppy 91-77 loss at Hawaii last night. The loss drops the Owls to 20-8 overall and 11-5 in the WAC which puts them in a tie for second place with Hawaii and Nevada, a game behind UTEP.

Head coach Willis Wilson summed the Owls up performance very well. "We were our own worst enemy tonight. We didn't shoot well, especially in the second half. We blew defensive assignments, and we played too cautious. On a whole, it was frustrating to watch."

The Owls, who won their 20th game of the year at San Jose State 61-55 on Friday, arrived in Honolulu on Saturday and went straight to practice. They left for Texas after the game and will host Louisiana Tech in their home finale on Thursday night. They then play at SMU on Saturday to wrap up the regular season. This loss may be the final nail in the coffin of Rice's chance to win an at-large bid to the NCAA tourney, even though this is a down year for the major conferences. They will likely have to win the WAC tournament which starts a week from Thursday in Fresno.

Bavasi on Ibanez 

Baseball Prospectus is running a two-part Q&A with Mariners GM Bill Bavasi in their premium section. The premium subscription there is well worth it. Here is a snippet of the interview around the subject of Raul Ibanez. Emphasis is added by me.

BP: This past off-season, the Mariners signed what you could call a lot of mid-tier, or second-tier free agents. Was there any thought given to signing say, one high-impact free agent, someone like Vladimir Guerrero, instead of several smaller names?

Bavasi: We pursued Miguel Tejada. A lot of the groundwork for the Raul Ibanez deal was done before I got to the Mariners. Pat and Lee had done a lot of work with Ron Shapiro, and it just kind of had to be tipped over the edge. He was a guy we felt real fortunate to get at the contract we got him. After that, we pursued Tejada. We did our best to pursue him as fast as possible, so that if we didn't get him, we could move quickly in another direction. With most any player, going over four years isn't a philosophy we want to go with. It's hard to find a contract over four years that everybody stays happy with. Pat and I talked about this, and he was saying how with a contract that long, either the player's unhappy with it after a while, or the team is, but someone almost always is.

BP: You mentioned the Ibanez contract. Obviously the Mariners signed him for more money and more years than some of the other corner outfielders on the market that would seem to fall into his class--guys like Jose Cruz, Reggie Sanders, and Carl Everett. Why did you feel Ibanez was worth considerably more than those other players, and what impact do you think he'll have on the team?

Bavasi: You're right that that's pretty much the class of player that we were dealing with. We felt that Raul had the greatest chance in that group to provide the greatest consistent impact in our ballpark. We didn't forget things like left/right numbers in our ballpark--if Raul was right-handed, it might have been be a little different. We didn't think there were any players out there that had the potential to provide production that he did for the deal that we did. We felt he could do a good job of making contact and pulling the ball in Safeco. He's developed into a tremendous hitter too. Our opinion--and we have some numbers to back it up--is that he was the hitter with the greatest impact, and a more consistent hitter than the names you mentioned.

BP: This was a three-year contract for a player going on 32 years old. Was there a concern that you might be signing a player who wouldn't likely improve given what we know about peak ages, who might plateau or actually start to slow down during the course of the deal?

Bavasi: That was not a concern with this player. Roger, Denny, Lee--a lot of people who've been with the club a long time have intimate knowledge of this player, and based on that and what we know, we felt that wasn't a concern.

BP: What type of production are you expecting from Ibanez in 2004? In other words, what's the minimum level of production you'd expect for the money spent?

Bavasi: As with any player, it is fair to expect Raul to perform to the level he has in the recent past.

BP: Given the draft pick compensation required for the Ibanez signing, do the Mariners as an organization believe the money they'd spend on a first-round pick is better spent elsewhere?

Bavasi: Like all clubs, we take up issues like that on a case-by-case basis. But, generally speaking, clubs drafting in the second half of the rotation might be more inclined to forsake that pick for a quality free agent.
Pretty much sounds like I described it. The M's felt Ibanez was the best fit for the club - solid hitter, left-handed, good fit in Safeco, and great character to boot. They made an aggressive offer, and got the deal done quickly.

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...
Stock: NEUTRAL
#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.
Stock: NEUTRAL
#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.

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