2010 Preview: Seattle Mariners

  • Wednesday, March 31, 2010 10:14 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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2009: 85-77, 3rd in AL West. Pythagorean record of 75-87.
Key Additions: SP Cliff Lee, 2B/3B Chone Figgins, OFs Milton Bradley and Eric Byrnes, 1B Casey Kotchman
Key Losses: 3B Adrian Beltre, 1B Russell Branyan, OF Endy Chavez, SP Carlos Silva
2010 Projections: PECOTA – 82-80, 3rd in AL West. CHONE – 78-84, 4th. CAIRO – 82.6-79.4, 1st.

Pitching: 2009 – 4.39 FIP (20th in MLB), 4.41 for starters, 4.35 for relievers
2010 – Assuming Lee's strained abdominal muscle doesn't turn into a long-term problem, the Mariners have perhaps the best one-two punch in the game, with him and Felix Hernandez. They eventually should get Erik Bedard back as well, but not until at least mid-season, and in the meantime, they are going to have to count on guys like Ian Snell and Ryan Rowland-Smith to hold things together.
Hitting: 2009 – .313 wOBA (26th in MLB)
2010 – Ichiro is Ichiro, and with him and Figgins, the M's can count on a potent top of the order. A healthy, happy and productive Milton Bradley would provide some much-needed oomph to a lineup that's a little short on firepower, but just ask the Cubs about the wisdom of relying on that.
Fielding: 2009 – UZR of 85.5 (1st in MLB)
2010 – The Mariners are sort of the darlings of the advanced fielding metrics revolution, and for good reason. Franklin Gutierrez is the Albert Pujols of defensive center fielders, and again, Ichiro is Ichiro. Seattle also has an elite glove at shortstop with Jack Wilson. The decision to swap Figgins and Jose Lopez between second and third base was an interesting one, but it's hard to question an organization that seems to be ahead of the defensive curve.

Reasons to Watch
1. Ichiro: As Joe Posnanski points out in his blog, the word unique is probably overused when it comes to describing baseball players, who tend to fall into one category or another. But not Ichiro, so I don't think Posnanski is exaggerating when he claims: "I don’t think there has ever been a player in baseball history quite like Ichiro Suzuki." JoePo goes on to point out that counting his time in Japan, Ichiro has more hits entering his age 36 season than anyone else, including Pete Rose and Ty Cobb. And of course, he's done it differently than anyone else, with his infield-single generating run-toward-first-as-you-swing maneuver and his ability to seemingly drop the ball in the exact location the defense has left open. Let's all enjoy watching the guy, because chances are, there will never be another Ichiro.
2. Milton Bradley: Nobody is going to argue about Bradley's talent, and I would not dispute the notion that he got some unfair treatment from fans and even some members of the media last season. Still, when you're changing teams nearly every season, in large part because almost every one of your employers develops some sort of problem with you, chances are it says more about you than it does about other people. And yet Bradley refuses to accept this, seemingly clinging to an everyone's-out-to-get-me mentality. In the end, winning is the best source of chemistry, so how Bradley acts in the clubhouse is not as important as how he plays on the field. But if times get tough in Seattle this season, it's probably just a matter of time before there's another incident.
3. Ken Griffey Jr.: The Mariners might have been thinking more with their hearts than their heads when they brought Griffey back for his 22nd season, but even in this golden age of objective analysis, it's hard to blame them. The guy is a franchise icon, and although he's barely a shadow of his former self, he's still got that sweet swing, and he did manage to hit 19 home runs last season. Griffey, who figures to DH against right-handed pitching, likely will retire after this season, making "winning one for Griff" a big goal for Seattle. As a baseball fan, especially one who got into the game during Griffey's prime, it's hard to think of a nicer story than that.

Paint By Numbers: Franklin Gutierrez's UZR in center field last season was a stunning 29.1, which is more amazing considering he had played a total of 29 big league games at the position before 2009. Individual single-season fielding metrics are not terribly reliable, but a number about 11 points better than anyone else's is impossible to ignore, especially since Gutierrez put up a 21.3 UZR in 97 games in right field in 2008. ... Ichiro racked up 50 infield hits last season, 21 more than second-place Michael Bourn, and only six of those came on bunts. He has averaged about 42 infield hits per season since coming to America. ... Chone Figgins first received significant big league playing time in 2003 and posted a 7.4 percent walk rate. Since then, that rate has increased in every single season, culminating in last year's 13.9 percent and career-high .395 OBP.

Blog Jog: At Lookout Landing, Jeff Sullivan suggests some possible reasons why the Mariners waived free agent signee Ryan Garko, while Matthew discusses the relative merits of extra outfielders Eric Byrnes and Ryan Langerhans. ... Dave Cameron of U.S.S. Mariner looks at the bright side of Seattle's health woes, pointing out that April is as good a time as any to be hurting. And coming off a historically good defensive season, Cameron looks at a reasonable expectation for 2010. ... Meanwhile, Cameron explains Seattle's No. 6 finish in FanGraphs' organizational rankings.

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4 Series to Mark on Your Calendar

  • Saturday, February 13, 2010 10:43 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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Four more days until the first pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. Therefore, it seems like a good time to look ahead to four potentially interesting series on the schedule for this season.

I didn’t include matchups between division rivals here, since those are pretty obvious and provide intrigue every year.

April 12, 14-15, Red Sox @ Twins – On the 12th, outdoor baseball will return to Minneapolis for the first time since 1981, the last year of old Metropolitan Stadium. Ever since, the Twins have been safely tucked away in the ugly but warm confines of the Metrodome. Until this season, that is. Target Field is opening its doors for this prime series against the Red Sox. These two teams figure to put on a good show, as long as they’re not frozen solid. The average temperature in Minneapolis in April is a high of 57 and a low of 36, with the record low being a balmy 2 degrees. At least all three games in this series are day games, with the first night contest taking place to start the following series against the Royals. For the sake of Twins fans, let’s hope Target Field has hot chocolate dispensers in the backs of every seat.

June 22-24, Cubs @ Mariners – This interleague series is certainly interesting on its own merits. These two teams figure to be playoff contenders, and the Cubs have visited Seattle only once before, in 2002. But these three games have another storyline as well: Milton Bradley’s first appearance against his last team. Bradley’s brief tenure in Chicago ended with him getting suspended late in the season. The veteran outfielder might have gotten some undeservedly rough treatment from fans and the media – his on-field performance wasn’t as bad as many perceived – but he never fit in a clubhouse that generally got along well. Even Ryan Dempster, a first-class act, said after Bradley’s suspension, “It became one of those things where you see him putting the blame on everybody else, and sometimes you have to look in the mirror and realize that maybe the biggest part of the problem is yourself and wanting to be there and wanting to play every day and wanting to have some fun. It didn't seem like he wanted to have very much fun, even from Spring Training.” There could be some serious tension here, assuming Bradley is still on the active roster at that point.

June 25-27, Yankees @ Dodgers – This will be the Bronx Bombers’ first trip to Chavez Ravine since 2004. These are two franchise with a ton of history between them, including 11 clashes in the World Series (four since the Dodgers left Brooklyn). And this series figures to come with both squads near or at the top of their respective divisions. A lot will be made of Joe Torre managing against his old club, but what’s really more interesting is what happens on the field, and this series could feature some exciting matchups. Personally I’m eager to see LA’s 22-year-old lefty strikeout machine Clayton Kershaw test his stuff against New York’s nightmare-inducing lineup, or closer Jonathan Broxton try to finish off a close game against A-Rod. Not to mention that Manny Ramirez against the Yankees tends to be entertaining.

Sept. 17-19, Angels @ Rays – Most of the series at the very end of the season are divisional matchups, as they should be, but this is one late-season interdivisional series that could have huge playoff implications. The Rays seem to be in position to stand up to the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East again, while the Angels likely will have their supremacy in the AL West challenged by at least two division competitors. Depending on how things shake out, this could even turn into a crucial battle for a wildcard berth. Plus, you have a showdown of the minds between Mike Scioscia and former bench coach Joe Maddon, now managing Tampa, and Angels pitcher Scott Kazmir potentially squaring off against his old team for the first time.

Tomorrow: 3 teams to keep an eye on

6 Most Interesting Off-Season Moves

  • Thursday, February 11, 2010 8:04 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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First off, sorry for the long delay between posts. I’ve taken a new job that involved moving across the country, and things got a little hectic on me.

But now I’m operational again, and it’s coming at the perfect time, as pitchers and catchers start reporting to Spring Training Feb. 17 (although some teams wait until the 21st). To mark the occasion, I’ll be posting a different list looking ahead at the new season every day between now and when the first camps open.

Since there are six days left until Feb. 17, today's list is "6 Most Interesting Off-Season Moves." These aren't necessarily the biggest or most important moves, just the ones that caught my attention the most.

Phillies acquire Roy Halladay from Blue Jays and deal Cliff Lee to the Mariners
This was the biggest deal of the offseason and also the most interesting because of the Phillies' decision to swap aces. Philly could have gotten Halladay and still kept Lee, but apparently felt that would have left their farm system in bad shape. Still, the prospects they gave up for Halladay are more highly regarded than those they picked up for Lee, and you have to wonder whether the difference between the two pitchers is big enough to make it all worthwhile. The Phillies still look like serious World Series contenders this season, but this pair of trades was a little puzzling.

Red Sox sign Mike Cameron and Adrian Beltre
Neither Cameron nor Beltre has a particularly bigtime reputation, and they're both low batting average hitters. But both players are productive at the plate and superb with the glove -- Cameron in center field and Beltre at third base. These signings indicate Boston's newfound dedication to run prevention, something the organization shares with other cutting-edge teams like the Mariners and A's. Beltre and Cameron figure to be difference-makers in what could be a very tight AL East race.

Cardinals name Mark McGwire hitting coach; Cubs name Rudy Jaramillo hitting coach
Putting aside the hubub of McGwire's PED admission, his hiring and that of Jaramillo are interesting as they relate to the issue of a batting coach's real impact on a team. The importance of these coaches at the big league level tends to be overstated in my opinion, making them easy scapegoats during tough times. But it will be fascinating to see how these two guys do. The Cubs' offense is poised for a rebound regardless of coaching, as it's hard to believe players like Geovany Soto and Alfonso Soriano will be as bad as they were last season, but Jaramillo has a sterling reputation and could provide an extra boost. McGwire has gotten glowing reviews from players who have worked with him privately and might make a difference for Cardinals hitters not named Albert Pujols.

Royals sign Jason Kendall to a two-year contract
The Royals have made a litany of baffling moves recently, but this signing stands out. How does a team that figures to be nowhere near a playoff race justify not only signing the aging Kendall, but to a two-year deal? Of course, the easy answer is some mythical combination of "veteran leadership" and "grit," but the fact is that Kendall hasn't managed an OBP above .331 or a slugging percentage above .324 the past three seasons. In other words, he's an offensive liability, even for a catcher. The Royals could have signed someone younger and cheaper to do just as poorly, but if they did that, they wouldn't be the Royals.

A's sign Ben Sheets
Sheets missed all of last season after having elbow surgery and has started 25 or more games only once since 2004. But the small-market A's, looking to compete in what figures to be a rough-and-tumble AL West, outbid the competition for his services, inking Sheets to a one-year deal worth $10 million plus incentives. Will Sheets help keep Oakland in the playoff race, or at least stay healthy long enough to get flipped for prospects at the trade deadline? That remains to be seen.

Cubs trade Milton Bradley to Mariners for Carlos Silva
This was one of those classic "our problem for your problem" deals. Bradley had worn out his welcome in Chicago, to put it mildly, having been suspended from the team late in the season. Silva was making a lot of money and pitching terribly in Seattle. Basically this trade boiled down to the Cubs taking on the final two years of Silva's horrid deal in exchange for getting rid of Bradley plus acquiring some cash, which went toward signing Marlon Byrd. But while Bradley's situation in Chicago probably was untenable, he figures to produce a lot more than Silva this season and could be a real asset to the M's.

Tomorrow: 5 Intriguing Players to Watch in '10

Men Well Traveled

  • Tuesday, January 26, 2010 11:21 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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The news that Matt Stairs signed a minor league deal with the Padres on Saturday is significant for a reason other than its effect on San Diego’s potential bench production this coming season.

If Stairs makes the Padres during Spring Training, he will tie a major league record.

The veteran left-handed masher would be joining an elite fraternity of players who have stepped on a big league field for 12 different franchises. He’s currently at 11, one short of Mike Morgan and Ron Villone (who is currently a free agent and theoretically could pull into first place by himself if he signs with one of the 18 teams he hasn’t already played for).

There are currently 10 players who have suited up for at least 11 different teams, and it’s almost certainly not a coincidence that all of them started their careers since 1978. With free agency and players staying in better shape, careers last longer and there is a lot more turnover.

But I think it also takes something special to play for this many teams. You have to be good enough to stay in the league a while, but you can’t be so good that teams want to keep you around a long time. These are guys who generally weren’t stars but had some skill or skills that allowed them to maintain some value over a long period of time.

With some help from baseball-reference.com, let’s salute our prestigious 11-franchise club.

The Twelves

Ron Villone, P
1st Team: Seattle, 1995
Last Team: Washington, 2009 (currently a free agent)
Longest Tenure: Two full seasons with Cincinnati, 1999-2000
Stats: 717 G, 1,168 IP, 61-65, 4.73 ERA. 96 ERA+
Comment: Villone has started 93 games but mostly stuck around as a reliever. Lefty relievers seemingly can play forever, and Villone has held left-handed batters to a .241 average.

Mike Morgan, P
1st Team: Oakland, 1978
Last Team: Arizona, 2002
Longest Tenure: Three-plus seasons with Chicago (NL), 1992-95
Stats: 597 G, 2,772.1 IP, 141-186, 4.23 ERA, 97 ERA+
Comment: Morgan came up at 18, was out of the majors in 1980-81 and 1984, and pitched just two games in 1985, but he wound up sticking around long enough to win a World Series with the D-backs in 2001.

The Elevens

Paul Bako, C
1st Team: Detroit, 1998
Last Team: Philadelphia, 2009 (currently a free agent)
Longest Tenure: Two full seasons with Chicago (NL), 2003-04
Stats: 789 G, 2,471 PA, .231/.305/.318, .275 wOBA, 24 HR
Comment: It’s amazing how long backup catchers who can’t hit can stick around. Bako has gotten more than 300 plate appearances in a season only twice and never recorded a .700 OPS, but his defensive reputation is sterling.

Matt Stairs, OF/1B/DH
1st Team: Montreal, 1992
Last Team: Philadelphia, 2009 (but just signed with San Diego)
Longest Tenure: Five seasons with Oakland, 1996-2000
Stats: 1,761 G, 5,839 PA, .264/.358/.481, .360 wOBA, 259 HR
Comment: Stairs isn’t the most athletic guy, but he’s the consummate “professional hitter” who helped the Phillies win a World Series two years ago with his pinch-hitting heroics.

Julian Tavarez, P
1st Team: Cleveland, 1993
Last Team: Washington, 2009 (was released mid-season and hasn’t pitched since)
Longest Tenure: Four seasons with Cleveland, 1993-96
Stats: 828 G, 1,404.1 IP, 88-82, 4.46 ERA, 101 ERA+
Comment: Tavarez has become known as much for his fiery temper and crazy antics as for his pitching. As his baseball-reference.com page sponsor says, “…he’s bats*%# crazy.” Considering that, the frequent movement is not surprising.

Royce Clayton, SS
1st Team: San Francisco, 1991
Last Team: Boston, 2007
Longest Tenure: Five seasons with San Francisco, 1991-95
Stats: 2,108 G, 8,164 PA, .258/.312/.367, .301 wOBA, 110 HR
Comment: Clayton was a better hitter than Bako, but that’s not much of a compliment. Like Bako, he stuck around largely on the strength of his defense.

Kenny Lofton, OF
1st Team: Houston, 1991
Last Team: Cleveland, 2007
Longest Tenure: Five seasons with Cleveland, 1992-96 (spent five other seasons there over two other stints)
Stats: 2,103 G, 9,234 PA, .299/.372/.423, .359 wOBA, 622 SB
Comment: Lofton is easily the best player on this list and was still good in 2007 at age 40, although he couldn’t find a job the next season. He played for nine teams in his last six seasons, getting traded four times.

Rick White, P
1st Team: Pittsburgh, 1994
Last Team: Seattle, 2007
Longest Tenure: Two-plus seasons with Tampa Bay, 1998-2000
Stats: 613 G, 858.2 IP, 42-54, 4.45 ERA, 102 ERA+
Comment: White had a lot of split seasons, playing for two teams in 2000, 2002, 2003, 2006 and 2007. He also seems to have lasted well past his expiration date, as his ERAs his last four years were: 5.78, 5.29, 3.72, 5.15 and 7.79.

Terry Mulholland, P
1st Team: San Francisco, 1986
Last Team: Arizona, 2006
Longest Tenure: Four-plus seasons with Philadelphia, 1989-93
Stats: 685 G, 2,575.2 IP, 124-142, 4.41 ERA, 93 ERA+
Comment: Mulholland had a good run as a starting pitcher in the late 80s and early 90s and then hung on as a swingman for what seemed like forever. Only once in his last 13 seasons did he post a FIP below 4.50, yet he actually STARTED 15 games for the 2004 Twins.

Todd Zeile, 3B/1B/C
1st Team: St. Louis, 1989
Last Team: New York (NL), 2004
Longest Tenure: Six-plus seasons with St. Louis, 1989-95
Stats: 2,158 G, 8,649 PA, .265/.346/.423, .338 wOBA, 253 HR
Comment: Zeile won the 1990 NL Rookie of the Year as a catcher but soon switched to the hot corner. He was basically an average hitter who put up some solid seasons in the late 90s. Zeile managed to log less than 80 games played for five different teams.

Up-and-Comers

Dennys Reyes, LHP, STL, 10 teams, 32 years old
Jose Guillen, OF, KC, 9 teams, 33 years old
Russell Branyan, 1B/DH, free agent, 8 teams, 34 years old
Milton Bradley, OF, SEA, 7 teams, 31 years old

New Year's Resolutions: National League

  • Wednesday, December 30, 2009 12:16 PM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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Since the calendar is about to flip to 2010, we’ve reached the time of year when we solemnly vow to improve in various ways in the coming 365 days. Let’s take a look at the New Year’s resolutions of your favorite Major League baseball teams, starting with the National League.

Arizona Diamondbacks – Persuade everyone on the roster to join teammate and award-winning mustache-grower Clay Zavada in developing a little upper-lip fuzz. To be good, you have to look good, and everyone can agree nothing looks more stylish that a ‘stache.

Atlanta Braves – Stock the bullpen with plenty of blankets. You don’t want free agent acquisitions Billy Wagner (38 years old) and Takashi Saito (39) to catch cold in the early-season chill.

Chicago Cubs – Convince first baseman Derrek Lee, who normally conducts himself with a quiet professionalism, to start acting standoffish toward teammates and like a jerk to the media. That way, when the team underperforms again, fans and lazy reporters will have a convenient scapegoat to replace the departed Milton Bradley.

Cincinnati Reds – For the love of Fire Joe Morgan, stop batting Willy Taveras leadoff. Taveras played 82 games in the No. 1 spot this past season and posted a robust .275 on-base percentage in those contests. In a related note, learn that the most important thing you can do in baseball is not make outs.

Colorado Rockies – Start the season off hot this time, then suddenly collapse late, just to throw people off.

Florida Marlins – Make it to the World Series again so people will actually show up for the games.

Houston Astros – Keep signing mediocre 30-ish relievers to relatively lavish multi-year contracts. Great strategy.

Los Angeles Dodgers – Tell Frank and Jamie McCourt that if they don’t find a way to settle their divorce and ownership dispute quickly and in a way that is best for the team, Tommy Lasorda will sit on them until they do.

Milwaukee Brewers – Now that Brett Favre is persona non grata in Wisconsin, spice up the traditional Miller Park sausage races with an extra participant: someone dressed as Favre in a Vikings Jersey and Wranglers. This Favre imposter should obviously get out to the lead before being intercepted and stopped before the finish line.

New York Mets – Ensconce every player in bubble wrap to try to ward off the injuries that decimated the team in 2009.

Philadelphia Phillies – Make Green Man the team’s new co-mascot. Check out the hilarity that would ensue (skip ahead to about the 0:50 mark).



Supplementary resolution for you, the reader: If you are not already doing so, start watching “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”

Pittsburgh Pirates – Stop delaying the inevitable and trade rising star Andrew McCutchen now, before fans grow attached to him. It’s the humane thing to do.

San Diego Padres – Instead of starting diminutive David Eckstein at shortstop, have him hide in the back pocket of 6-foot-6, 285-pound outfielder Kyle Blanks, only to leap out at crucial times and chase down fly balls in San Diego’s spacious outfield.

San Francisco Giants – Now that super utilityman Mark DeRosa has signed with the team, provide local media with info sheet highlighting how DeRosa is “gritty” and plays the game The Right Way in order to help facilitate fawning articles.

St. Louis Cardinals – Continue furious work on super-secret Albert Pujols cloning project.

Washington Nationals – Petition Commissioner Selig to allow Adam Dunn to use a jetpack in left field. This would increase Big Donkey’s range while also giving people a reason to watch the team play.

Tomorrow: the American League!