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Critical Road Stretch Begins

Raul IbanezThe Mariners started a 20 game stretch in which they play 17 on the road with a resounding 9-4 victory over the Twins last night. Much is being made of this stretch, especially because the Angels started a stretch last night in which they play 17 of their next 20 at home. The deck looks badly stacked against the Mariners. However, after looking at the schedule, the situation is not as bad as it seems.

To start with, the Angels are going against the Yankees right now. After that, they face the Blue Jays, Mariners, Rangers, Athetics, and Indians. As for the Yankees, after the Angels they face the Tigers, Red Sox, Devil Rays, Mariners, and Royals. The Indians face the Tigers, Royals, Twins, Mariners (for one game), White Sox, Twins and Angels; and the Tigers face the Indians, Yankees, Royals, Athletics, White Sox, and the Mariners.

Sorry for the snooze fest that was the last paragraph, but if you take the time to read it you'll notice some redundancy. That's bad literary form, but good news for the Mariners. Indeed, 17 out of 20 on the road will be an arduous test, but if the Mariners hang tough they will still be in the race at the end of this brutal stretch. The Angels may be poised to make a run, but if they do so they will beat up on the Yankees and Indians. If the Yankees were to make a run, they would have to keep the Tigers and Angels in place. I could keep going, but basically these next 20 games for the Angels, Mariners, Indians, Tigers, and Yankees is a big, tangled web. Because of that, it will be difficult for more than one team to go on a serious run while the M's are out on the road. In fact, since the Mariners play all the teams they are competing with in this 20 game stretch, they could very well be the ones distancing themselves, especially with the way they've been swinging the bats.

Without a doubt, the M's face a brutal stretch at an extremely critical point in the year, and the difficulty is magnified by all the upcoming home games the Angels have. However, it is nice that the Mariners get to face all these teams they are fighting against for a playoff spot. It gives them control of their own destiny. It's also nice knowing that even if they only go .500 or so in this stretch, it is nearly impossible for every other team to get hot and leave them in the dust. The schedule isn't as unfavorable as it looks.

Mariners Sign Aumont

Phillipe AumontIt took until the final day, but the Mariners were able to sign their first round pick, Phillipe Aumont. The young Canadian right-hander received a $1.9 million signing bonus, which is just a little bit higher than the suggested amount by Major League Baseball for the 11th pick this year, but right around the suggested amount for the same pick last year. The M's certainly did not break the bank for him like other teams had to do to get their players in the fold (see the Devil Rays, Royals, Cubs, Orioles, and Tigers). It may take a few weeks for Aumont to get a visa, so the chances of him getting in some minor league games before the end of the season are slim.

So, now that Aumont is signed, what exactly are the Mariners getting? At 6'7", 225 pounds, he is a big pitcher, and he already throws in the mid-90s consistently from a 3/4 arm slot, which is especially difficult on right-handed hitters. Scouts say Phillipe also has a slider which has shown flashes of greatness, but he has difficulty keeping on top of it and driving it down through the strike zone thanks to his arm angle. Furthermore, Aumont's mechanics aren't bad, but they are inconsistent, which is to be expected from a 6'7" 18-year-old.

However, there is no denying that the raw talent is there. Despite the noticeable inconsistencies in Aumont's stuff, he has dominated against some pretty good competition. Also, he is athletic and his innings have been limited by the Canadian national team, both factors that greatly reduce his injury risk as a professional.

I'll never be a big fan of drafting high-schoolers (especially pitchers) with high draft picks because the statistics show that they pan out at a much lower frequency than college players, but with that being said Phillipe Aumont is a high-schooler worth taking a risk on. The biggest trouble with prep pitchers is that many develop arm problems working their way through the minors, and the main causes seem to be a lack of athleticism and overuse at too young of an age, two things that won't be a concern with Aumont. His fastball alone should be enough to get him to the majors some day, but if he refines his delivery and develops that slider further, or some other off-speed pitch, then the Mariners should really have something on their hands.

Deadline Comes and Everybody Signs

Matt WietersThe deadline has come and gone for drafted players to sign, and when all was said and done every player in the first round signed. Like I said in my previous post, deadlines have a way of making things happen, and it appears this one is no exception. Many deals came down to the final day, and even a few (Moustakas and Vitters) came down to the final minutes. So, early indications are that the new August 15 deadline did not stop teams and players from coming to agreements despite shortening the negotiation window from about a year to about two months.

However, did it really give teams more bargaining power? That is much harder to say. Major League Baseball uses a slotting system like the NBA does for its draft, though it is not nearly as strict as basketball's. In the NBA, the slot is the value of the rookie contract. There is essentially no negotiating. In baseball, the slotted values are only suggestions. This year, the MLB's suggested salaries were across the board about 10 percent lower than their suggested values from a year ago, which is odd considering the general trend of everything fiscal in the game is skyrocketing upwards. Not surprisingly, players who signed earlier were very close to the slot numbers. Players that signed today got anywhere between a little bit more than suggested and a ton more than suggested.

The August 15 deadline is a great change, but I'm not sure it gives teams more bargaining power. Thanks to the new guidelines for compensatory picks, teams in theory have much less to lose if they cannot sign a draft pick, and as a result should be more willing to stand their ground. However, judging from the deals that David Price and Rick Porcello, as well as some of the early indications about Moustakas's contract, teams are still willing to bend backwards to get picks signed, and there's not much baseball can do about it. Even if the Devil Rays would have been compensated with the second overall draft pick next year, could they really afford to not sign the first overall draft pick? Even with such rich compensation, it would look really bad. The same goes for the Royals, and really any team that is perpetually rebuilding.

It will be interesting to see if teams switch up their strategy next year after dealing with the new rules this year. Judging from how things unfolded, high-schoolers picked high in the draft will be the most difficult to sign under the new guidelines. With the exceptions of Price and Wieters, all the high picks who waited to sign were prep stars. Really, high-schoolers have little incentive to sign before the bitter end because they system's set up gives them no reason to. Teams picking high in the draft generally are not that good, so they already are more inclined to bend further in negotiations because they really need the influx of talent in the system, as well as some good publicity. In addition to that, high-schoolers picked have the option of going to junior college and then re-entering the draft next year, or to go to some four-year university on a full-ride baseball scholarship and re-entering a few years down the road. It's the way it has always been, but now the negotiating process is much quicker, which doesn't allow teams to focus on one individual player's negotiations for as long as in the past. Whether that makes a difference in future years is unknown yet.

Even if the deadline does nothing to give teams more bargaining power, it still is very good for everyone involved. It eliminates long holdouts, which hung over franchises in years past and made it difficult for them to formulate a solid draft strategy until only one week beforehand. As for players, they know well before the next baseball season starts whether they are a pro or will remain an amateur. If this has any impact on college teams, it will be a positive one. August 15 has a new importance in baseball, and it appears to be a change for the better.

The New MLB Amateur Draft

David PriceJuly 31, better known as the trade deadline, has been an important date in baseball for years. However, the date becomes more of a paper tiger every year thanks to improving revenue sharing and a massive influx of cash in the game. Simply put, less good players get traded by bad teams because they are more able to keep them these days. That's ultimately good news for the game, though it has taken much of the drama out of July 31.

A new date could take July 31's place soon though: August 15. If the dearth of star power in the trade and free agent markets continue (which seems likely), the amateur draft becomes more important. The draft has always been the best place for teams to find stars, but it's fast becoming essentially the only place to unearth them. This year, baseball made a major change to the draft process by moving up the deadline that draftees need to signed by to August 15, instead of a week before next year's draft. This gives teams a little over two months to negotiate with players instead of almost an entire year. In addition, if a team is unable to sign a draft pick in the first two rounds, they will receive a compensatory pick only one slot lower in next year's draft. According to the rules, a player that is not signed can re-enter the draft next year as long as they are eligible (which basically means as long as they aren't a high-schooler who decided to go to a four-year university), and also that a team cannot redraft a player unless the player consents to it (honestly, I don't know how that can be enforced). Major League Baseball is hoping to eliminate long holdouts and give teams more bargaining power in negotiations, which should in turn keep prospect signing bonuses from sky-rocketing to even more absurd levels and hopefully alleviate the signability concerns that often shape the draft more than the actual talent of the prospects.

The changes sound good in theory, but the first actual repercussions of them will be felt in a couple days. An alarming 8 of the top 12 picks are still unsigned, of which 6 are high-schoolers, meaning that they cannot re-enter the draft next year unless they go to junior college instead of a four-year university (and obviously all of them have plenty of offers to go to four-year universities). It's impossible to say how many of the high-schoolers will get signed, decide to go to college for at least three years, or go to junior college for a year and hope to get drafted really high again next year. Obviously, these players' decisions will have a large impact on next year's draft class, and the precedents these players set may also alter the draft strategies of teams and players in the future.

However, the most interesting scenario to me is the one that the Devil Rays have a good chance of facing. They had the number one overall pick this year and used it on Vanderbilt pitcher David Price, which came as no surprise. He remains unsigned, and given that he has enrolled for classes in the fall at Vanderbilt, it remains quite unclear if Tampa Bay will be able to sign him. Under the new rules if the Devil Rays are unable to sign him they will get the second overall pick in next year's draft. Interestingly, Tampa Bay is also on pace to have the worst record in baseball this year, and if they do finish with the worst record they will be given the top pick in next year's draft. It's not just plausible that Tampa Bay ends up with the top two picks in next year's draft, it might be probable.

For argument's sake, let's assume that Tampa Bay does get the top two picks, and that David Price's senior season is as good as his junior one. In all likelihood, he would once again be considered the top prospect in the draft, or at least among the elite prospects available. What exactly does that rule saying a player can't be redrafted by the same team without the player's consent say? Would it keep the Devil Rays from picking Price again? Furthermore, though Tampa Bay would have the unique opportunity to draft two phenomenal talents, they would both come with big signing bonuses. Generally, teams have a set amount they are willing to spend on an entire draft, and trying to sign the top two picks in a draft would surely blow that budget. In theory, for a team to get the top two picks, they did not spend a ton of money in the previous year's draft, so it should not be a big deal. However, in reality, will a team be willing to shell out the cash needed to sign the top two picks? Will any team with two high picks be willing to spend the money needed in one draft to sign both guys? I would hope so, but I am not sure.

The odds are many of the unsigned draftees will sign before the deadline. Deadlines have a way of making things happen. However, the players and teams who don't come to an agreement will be the first to really test the new system. The new rules will certainly impact future drafts, but whether that impact is positive or negative is yet to be seen.

M's Acquire Parrish, Sweep Orioles

John ParrishThe Mariners made a small move today, acquiring LHP John Parrish (70) from the Orioles for Sebastian Boucher (52/70) and a player to be named later. To make room for Parrish in the bullpen, the M's sent Mark Lowe down to AAA. This gives the team an astounding four left-handers in the bullpen. At first I thought the move was frivolous, but Parrish's numbers are misleading. He is a better pitcher than his ERA indicates, and he should do a pretty solid job of bridging the gap to the back end of the bullpen. Plus, this gives Mark Lowe a chance to build more arm strength in AAA and get regular pitching work, because it was clear at this point that Brandon Morrow is a better set-up option. Lowe will be back up in a couple weeks anyway when the rosters expand.

On the field, Ho-Ram "earned" his first road win of the season thanks to an offense that continued to bludgeon whoever the Orioles put on the mound. Pretty much everybody in the starting lineup had a great night, and heading in to Chicago the team has to feel good. Looking at the pitching match-ups and Chicago's anemic offense, the M's should be favored to take this next series. It is remarkable that the Mariners actually lead the Wild Card right now. This team has overachieved to this point, but watching them they really believe they are as good as their record, and it seems to be impacting their performance in a positive way. I'm still waiting for the Tigers and/or Yankees to catch them because both have superior talent, but the longer the M's stick around, the better chance they have. This team is up to the challenge at hand.

Adam Jones Finally Called Up

Adam Jones(due to this post, the projected MLB standings will come out tomorrow)

Months of speculation ended Wednesday night when, after a hard-fought 12-inning win over the detested Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (seriously, just pick one home city), John McLaren let it be known that the Mariners had made a move. Jason Ellison, whose Mariners tenure was highlighted by the his response to the Blanton-Ichiro dust-up, is gone and in his place is the heralded 23-year old, the most heralded position prospect the Mariners have had since Alex Rodriguez.

The timing is right too. Raul Ibanez has really slipped both offensively and defensively this year. According to my rating formula (which I revised and need to update in the explanation links), Adam Jones will be a 73 in the majors right now, whereas Ibanez is a 72 right now. It's a minimal upgrade offensively, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Jones should quickly establish himself as one of the best defensive outfielders in the game, and nobody questions he is a significant upgrade over Ibanez. The though of Jones and Ichiro patrolling the outfield is worth drooling over.

Perhaps the greatest sign that the timing is right is the dissent voiced by some players about the call-up, most notably Jose Guillen. Guillen says that it's about the team and not seeing the need to shake it up, but Guillen is a veteran. He didn't get a contract extension mid-season, and he knows Jones is probably a big reason why. I'm sure he is scared that it will hurt the team, but there's got to be a part of him even more scared if Adam is an improvement. Jones wasn't ready last year, but now he is. Adam is no longer a prospect, he's the newest Mariner, and a safe bet to become a permanent fixture for years to come.

Trade Deadline Recap

Jarrod SaltalamacchiaThe trade deadline came and went yesterday with one big move and a flurry of smaller ones. The nature of the deadline has changed considerably the last couple years as bad teams are much less willing to part with their superstars. That's partly because contenders are also less willing to give up their best prospects. As a result, deadline trades are often moves involving second-tier players and either marginal or extremely young prospects. Here's a look at what happened this year (numbers in parentheses are the player's value according to my rating formulas; in the case of prospects with minor league numbers, their adjusted Major League rating is first followed by their raw, unadjusted rating):
  • Rangers trade 1B Mark Teixeira (86) and LHP Ron Mahay (68) to the Braves for C/1B Jarrod Saltalamacchia (72), SS Elvis Andrus (37/68), RHP Neftali Feliz (23/93), LHP Matt Harrison (59/84), and LHP Beau Jones (30/71) - This was easily the biggest trade of the deadline, as it would be the biggest pretty much any year. This is a huge deal for the Braves as they shored up their biggest hole in the lineup, and even got a little bullpen help while only moving one guy off their major league roster. Atlanta was in the hunt for the wild card before this move, but now they are right there with the Mets for the NL East crown, and have also positioned themselves for a World Series run. This is the type of deal that makes giving up great young talent worth it. As for the Rangers, they really had to trade Teixeira. They did have control of him next year, but he turned down a contract extension worth about $140 million, so it was clear he wasn't interested in staying, and keeping him would have turned ugly. The Angels were rumored to be offering 1B Casey Kotchman (85) and LHP Joe Saunders (76/85), which is the deal I would have picked between these two, but the concern of trading within the division is understandable. In the Braves deal the Rangers got five legitimate prospects, though it will be some time before anyone besides Saltalamacchia contributes. All in all, an amazing deal for Atlanta and a good one for Texas.
  • Red Sox trade RHP Joel Pineiro (56) and cash considerations to the Cardinals for a player to be named later - The only intriguing thing about this trade is if that player to be named is worth paying attention to. Pineiro certainly isn't at this point. I think St. Louis wants to have a starting rotation completely comprised of converted relievers by the end of the year.
  • Astros trade 3B Morgan Ensberg (67) and cash considerations to the San Diego Padres for a player to be named later - Without a doubt, Ensberg has slipped some, but the Astros never fully valued Ensberg's ability to work counts. They couldn't get past his low batting average the last couple years. Unlike most deals that are this small, I could see Ensberg making a bit of an impact in San Diego.
  • Royals trade RHP Octavio Dotel (65) to the Braves for RHP Kyle Davies (65) - The Royals got the better end of this deal. Dotel is an oft-injured mediocre reliever in the twilight of his career at this point, while Davies is a struggling young starter. Dotel has more value to the Braves right now, but these two players are of essentially equal value right now, except one is on his way down and the other on his way up.
  • Dodgers trade INF Wilson Betemit (75) to the Yankees for RHP Scott Proctor (53) - This deal is going to blow up in the Dodgers' face. Betemit, much like Ensberg, wasn't valued thanks to a low batting average. However, he has shown good plate discipline and very good power, and he's also just 25 years old. On the other hand, Scott Proctor's ERA will jump up in a hurry if he doesn't start pitching better. The Dodgers could use some help in the bullpen, but not at this price.
  • Giants trade RHP Matt Morris (80) to the Pirates for OF Rajai Davis (77/88) and a player to be named later - This gets my vote for oddest trade at the deadline. I can't believe that of all the teams looking to upgrade pitching the Pirates end up landing the best pitcher at the deadline. However, in classic Pirates fashion, they still got the worst end of this deal by far. This is a great move for the Giants because they unload Morris's contract and they have plenty of talented young pitchers. What they don't have are younger position players, and Davis looks like a leadoff hitter cut out of the Juan Pierre/Willy Tavares mold (though Davis has a little pop too). I don't get what the Pirates are thinking here, but I could say that for virtually anything they have done in the last 15 years.
  • White Sox trade OF Rob Mackowiak (74) to the Padres for RHP Jon Link (39/72) - This is another underrated move by the Padres. Mackowiak is a tremendous option off the bench thanks to his solid bat and versatility. Really, he's good enough to be a serviceable starter. It probably made sense for the ChiSox to move an outfielder and make space for OF Jerry Owens (66/73), since he fits the small-ball style Ozzie Guillen prefers, but they either should have got a little more for Mackowiak or offered OF Darin Erstad (68) instead.
  • Padres trade LHP Royce Ring (75/83) to the Braves for LHP Wil Ledezma (54) and RHP Will Startup (64/75) - I wonder if the Braves know how good Royce Ring is, because though Mahay is being heralded as the lefty the bullpen needed, Ring is younger and better. Ledezma has had a tough year, but he's young and not as bad as he has performed this year. Talent-wise the trade is pretty equal, but Ring clearly upgrades Atlanta's bullpen (if they are smart enough to put him there and not AAA) and I don't see how Ledezma and Startup really help the Padres, though they don't hurt the team either.
  • Rangers trade RHP Eric Gagne (74) and cash considerations to the Red Sox for LHP Kason Gabbard (73/81), OF David Murphy (65/76), and OF Engle Beltre (6/65) - This deal would have been great for the Rangers even with only Gabbard included, but they also got a solid outfielder in Murphy, and a complete wild card in Beltre. As for the Red Sox, I don't see why they did this deal given how strong their bullpen already is. They mortgaged a little too much young talent for a rather minimal gain.
  • Mariners trade RHP Julio Mateo (67/75) to the Phillies for SS Jesus Merchan (66/94) - Really, this move was all about letting Mateo move on. Merchan intrigues me, but he's shown only marginal hitting ability at any level before this year. However, it was clear that Mateo was going nowhere with the Mariners. I included Mateo's unadjusted rating, but considering his age and MLB experience, in all likelihood he has peaked around the 67 rating. Mateo is going to be a nice addition to the Phillies bullpen, and maybe the M's really got something in Merchan.