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Enigma Bound For Emerald City

Jeff WeaverWhile I was off on a nine-day wind ensemble tour through Canada and western Washington, the Mariners made a couple moves. First, they signed Arthur Rhodes to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training. The odds are that he will make the team and that is good news because Eric O’Flaherty is young and promising, but not ready. Though this is not the turn-of-the-millennium Rhodes that was dominant for the Mariners, he should be a little better than O’Flaherty and it is nice to see a face with ties to the most successful run in Mariners history.

However, more noteworthy was the signing of Jeff Weaver to a 1 year, $8.35 million deal with $1 million more that could be earned in incentives. Weaver will take the rotation spot that was up for grabs between Jake Woods and Cha Seung Baek.

Was signing Jeff Weaver a good move? It is hard to say. He struggled mightily last year, as evidenced by his 8-14 record and ERA well over 5.00. On my rating system he was a 5.2 last year, which means he was arguably not even a decent option as a number five starter. For comparison, Jake Woods was a 4.6. Based on Weaver’s 2006 numbers alone, this was an awful signing.

But 2006 was Weaver’s worst year of his career and only his 2003 season with the Yankees even comes close to being as bad. Outside of those two years Jeff Weaver has been a quality top-of-the-rotation type of guy and at 31 years old with no injury history, there is no reason to think that he is washed up. If the Mariners get the pitcher that Jeff Weaver has been for the majority of his career, than it was a pretty good signing.

So, which Jeff Weaver did they get? At over $8 million, it’s pretty clear the Mariners think he will regain his form and maybe even be considered the staff ace by the end of the year. I definitely don’t think Weaver was worth the money the M’s gave him, but for only one year I can deal with the exorbitant contract. I’m much more concerned about Weaver’s productivity.

Even Jeff’s numbers do not provide many answers to his future. As mentioned earlier, he had a bad season in 2003 with the Yankees out of pretty much nowhere and once he got out of New York he rebounded just fine. Many people chalked up his bad performance to the pressure of playing for the Yankees. I don’t completely buy that because he did just fine after being traded to them halfway through the 2002 season, but his sudden rebound can’t be ignored. Interestingly, he faced another awkward situation last year when Jered Weaver, his younger brother, came up and replaced him. It is possible that Jeff was in another stressful situation and that it affected his performance.

I am not sold that is what really happened though. If the situation with the Angels was really that bad, Weaver should have been better with the Cardinals than he was in the regular season. However, Jeff admits that with the Angels he started to press and it had a negative affect on his mechanics, which Cardinals pitching coach (more like pitching wizard) Dave Duncan fixed. Maybe that really happened because, though Weaver was rather ineffective for St. Louis in the regular season, he regained his old form in the postseason.
Despite these positive signs, I am still not convinced Weaver will bounce back. In 2005 with the Dodgers he went 14-11 with a 4.22 ERA and 1.17 WHIP – all numbers that are a little better than his career averages. However, he allowed a whopping 35 home runs that season, well more than his previous career high of 27 from back in his rookie season and nearly double the 19 he allowed in 2004. At the time it seemed like a fluke number for Weaver, just some bizarre blip on his radar. However, it’s much harder to ignore now because he backed up his 35-homer 2005 season by allowing 34 dingers in 2006. He didn’t get away with it last season because he gave up more hits.

What Jeff Weaver will do in 2007 is anybody’s guess. He is as tough to project as they come. It is entirely possible that Weaver finds the form that he has had in five of his last seven seasons and the Mariners look smart for signing him. On the other hand, it is also possible that he continues to hand out home runs like candy and he is nothing more than a serviceable five starter, which the Mariners already have in Jake Woods or Cha Seung Baek for a fraction of the price. My best guess is Weaver’s home run rate will go down only because he will be pitching in Safeco Field, but I also think his WHIP will improve because I see him rebounding some from 2006. Ultimately, I see Weaver pitching around 200 innings for the Mariners with an ERA around 4.50, a WHIP of 1.35, and an 11-11 record. That may not sound very exciting, but it would rate as a 3.8 on my pitcher’s scale, which would make him about as good as Miguel Batista and Jarrod Washburn and a noticeable upgrade over Woods or Baek. Jeff Weaver was not worth the money, but for one year overpaying is not that big of a deal. All things considered, signing Weaver was a solid move by the Mariners.