Young Arms Providing Hope

Ryan Rowland-SmithAs the losses mounted in the most recent losing streak, I wondered if I could find anything good to say about the Mariners these days. Sure, bad teams lose, but nobody should get blown out night after night after night. The pitching staff especially looked completely over-matched. It is one thing to be bad; it is another to not belong in the same league.

That is why the last two nights have been so refreshing. Enter Ryan Rowland-Smith and Ryan Feierabend, youngsters who took the mound and delivered fine starts on back-to-back nights. Granted, they both faced the Oakland A's, perhaps the worst offensive lineup in the American League. Still, the pitching staff was giving up 10 runs with ease on a nightly basis, so to see a couple good pitching performances against anyone was a much-needed sight for sore eyes.

There are legitimate reasons to be impressed with both starts as well. Rowland-Smith went 7 innings and threw 114 pitches, with negligible loss in velocity. Not too bad for someone still getting stretched out. Ryan Feierabend had a rough start on short rest against Minnesota, but looked much sharper on regular rest. In particular, he spotted his fastball well, and his change-up had good arm action and nice sink. He kept most everything down in the strike zone too, and so he induced more ground balls than he usually does. It would have been nice to see Ryan go a little deeper, but I will gladly take five great innings at this point.

Arms in the minor leagues are giving reasons for hope too. Brandon Morrow will be back in the majors soon, and he keeps getting stronger with each start. His most recent outing - 4.2 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 10 K, 72 pitches - was particularly promising. Chris Jakubauskas is working his way back from injury, Robert Rohrbaugh and Andrew Baldwin have both been having better outings of late, and looking more long term, 19-year-old Michale Pineda has an era hovering around 2.00 in Wisconsin.

There is reason for hope. I have had faith in the young arms for some time (as I said over and over and over last off-season), and it is nice to see some of them finally get chances this year. If I had been in charge of the Mariners last off-season, the rotation would look similar to how it does now. But, the team would also have Adam Jones in center or right field, an even deeper crop of arms in the farm system, and about $20 million less in payroll. My version of the 2008 Mariners probably would not have avoided a terrible collapse, but it sure would be in position to turn things around much faster.

MLB Draft Could Use a Cap

Buster PoseyI was going to write my own recap of yesterday's signing, but Minor League Baseball has really good one that you can check out by clicking here. All I will add is that I, like most, am surprised that all the last-minute contracts (expect Yonder Alonso's) were not Major League ones. The signing bonuses were big though, highlighted by the Posey and Alvarez deals. On the average, signing bonuses are way up this year (you can read more about the bonuses at Baseball America's draft blog if you would like), but it does not concern me as much as some. This year was loaded with college prospects, who tend to demand higher bonuses. Also, the it seems that teams preferred to pay higher bonuses to get players signed to minor league deals. Just look at Brian Matusz, the fourth pick. He agreed to a $4 million bonus with a Major League deal. On the other hand, Pedro Alvarez, Eric Hosmer, and Buster Posey - the second, third, and fifth selections, respectively - all got bonuses of at least $6 million, but signed minor league deals. More MLB contracts would have likely meant lower bonuses.

Still, the hope was that the new signing rules would keep signing bonuses from escalating, so this year is a little alarming. The suggested slot system is really starting to fall apart, because it is becoming more apparent each year that teams will completely ignore it if they want to sign a player bad enough. What I think Major League Baseball should do is look into putting a hard cap on how much money teams can use to sign their draft picks, just like the NFL has. Basically, here is how it would work: each team would get so much money to work with, based on the picks that they have. The amount would be figured out by adding up the suggested slot values for every pick the team has in the first five rounds, and adding to it some fixed sum of money that in theory could be used to sign a team's picks in rounds 6-50 (the fixed sum would be a base amount that every team gets; but each team's total would vary by the picks they have in the first five rounds).

This sort of cap system would be a great compromise. First of all, it would not penalize teams with lots of compensatory draft picks, because the system guarantees they would get more money to try to sign all their picks. Also, there is no cap on any individual draft pick, so a team would still have plenty of freedom to spend the money as they choose. Furthermore, it may even add incentive for top draft picks to sign quickly, before the team uses up a significant amount of their funds on other draft picks.

Suppose a cap system like the one I described was in place for this year's draft. I do not know the exact suggested slots for all the picks, but my estimate is that no team would have more than $8-9 million to spend on all their bonuses. Immediately, that would have forced guys like Yonder Alonso and Aaron Crow (who were both reportedly asking for $9-10 million) to lower their asking prices. In 2007, the Tigers would have faced a much tougher decision with Rick Porcello. The amount they had to pay to sign him at the 27th pick would have pretty much guaranteed they could not sign one or two of their other draft picks. Then again, perhaps under these rules, Porcello would not have asked for so much in the first place.

I do not like the strict salary scale that the NBA uses for their draft, but the current MLB set-up is probably a little too lenient. Teams should have the freedom to spend their money as they choose, but at the same time money should not govern who gets the most talented players. A cap on how much money a team can spend is a good compromise that baseball should look into.

Flurry of Signings at the Deadline

Baseball needs deadlines to get things done. I guess that is true of virtually anything in life, but it seems particularly true in baseball. It amazes me every year how much happens right before any sort of deadline in Major League Baseball. It is part of what makes the sport so exciting to follow. Here is a blow-by-blow account of how today went down:

  • Well before the deadline the Orioles announced their deal with Brian Matusz, and the Yankees announced that they would not come to an agreement with Garret Cole. Also, while a deal between the Giants and Buster Posey was not final, rumors were that they only had to put the finishing touches on an agreement.
  • There was little news until about 15-30 minutes before the deadline. That's when it broke that Yonder Alonso had signed. He reportedly got a major-league deal, and a signing bonus in the $4-$4.5 million range. He started the day asking for a $7 million bonus, so the reason this deal got done (to my surprise) is because he lowered his asking price drastically in the last couple hours before the deadline.
  • The Alonso deal paved the way for Justin Smoak to sign with the Rangers. He got a $3.5 million bonus, but no major-league deal. Popular belief was that Smoak was waiting for Alonso to sign, but I am not so sure the deals were as intimately connected as most think. If Smoak was truly waiting, I would think that he would have either taken the $3.5 million bonus but demanded a major-league contract, or asked for a $4 million bonus with no major-league deal. It seems that all the college players above Smoak were demanding major-league deals, so I would assume that significant negotiating took place to result in the deal that he signed. That negotiating had to take place while the Alonso situation was very much in limbo.
  • The Padres did get Allan Dykstra signed with a $1.15 million signing bonus (and I'm assuming it is a minor league contract). Rumors were that they offered $1.5 million before getting worried about a hip condition that Dykstra has. I am mildly surprised the deal got done, but not so much when I saw that the final figure was only $350,000 less than the rumored pre-injury bonus. Considering Dykstra has had no problems with the condition for three years, I think the situation was a little overblown, and not worth the trouble of going down to the deadline.
  • Buster Posey officially signed with the Giants sometime right around the deadline. There are still no confirmed reports, but rumors are that he got a major-league deal, and the signing bonus may be as high as $6.75 million. Some sources say the rumored bonus total is not right, and I would agree. I think it is less, especially if he got the MLB contract.
  • It took until a half hour past the deadline for news to break that the Pirates had signed Pedro Alvarez, and the Royals Eric Hosmer. Both must have gone right down to the deadline. Alvarez reportedly got a $6 million signing bonus, but no major-league deal! The bonus is huge, but the minor league deal is quite surprising, especially given the number of college players picked below him that did get them. Early reports are that Hosmer also received a bonus in the neighborhood of $6 million, and I will go out on a bit of a limb and assume he also got a minor league contract.
  • As seemed rather likely, the Nationals did not sign Aaron Crow. It will be interesting to see if Crow pitches a year in an independent league, or returns to Missouri. He definitely will re-enter the draft next year at this point. Frankly, I think he may pay dearly for his decision. Next year is supposed to be a strong draft for pitching, certainly a stronger one than this one. Crow is going to have to do something really special in the next year to make it in the top 10 again. As for the Nationals, they were really smart to hold their ground. They are already on track for a top-3 pick in the 2009 draft thanks to the awful season they are suffering through, and now they also have the 10th pick in 2009 as compensation for not signing Crow. As previously mentioned, next year's draft looks like it will have way more pitching talent, so the Nationals can likely land two pitching prospects better than Crow next year. Washington quietly has reason to be very happy tonight.
  • As seemed even more likely, the Mariners did not sign Josh Fields. However, they have until May to sign him since he was a college senior. This is even less surprising considering how busy Scott Boras was tonight with all his other clients that needed to sign by the deadline.
Aren't deadlines fun, especially when teams are making decisions with the potential to alter the fortunes of their franchise for the next decade? I think it is great that the deadline is now August 15, but the advantages of the earlier deadline are a topic for another post.

Yankees Will Not Sign Cole

Gerrit ColeThe Yankees announced a little over an hour ago that they will not sign their first round draft pick, Gerrit Cole. It looks like money was not the sticking point, but rather a desire to go to college than straight to the pros. The New York Times blog had a little blurb reporting this yesterday, actually. If I had read that before making my predictions on who would sign, I would have had a much better chance of predicting that Cole would not sign (but that's what I get for shooting from the gut instead of doing my homework). He has picked UCLA over the Yankees, meaning he will not be eligible for the draft again for another three years. I am a proponent of players going to college, and I also like seeing the Yankees face setbacks. I have decided that I like Gerrit Cole.

Matusz Signs

Brian MatuszWord broke about an hour and a half ago that the Orioles signed Brian Matusz. He's got a $3.2 million signing bonus, but the real perk is that it is a Major League contract. That does not mean he has to appear in the majors anytime soon, but it does mean he is a member of Baltimore's 40-man roster, among other things that make a major league deal much more desirable than a minor league one.

I don't think this contract changes negotiations for other unsigned draft picks all that much. It probably gives Buster Posey even more leverage to get a major league contract, and at this point I will be quite surprised if he does not get one. The Matusz deal also further asserts that Alonso and Crow are both asking for way too much, which pressures both of them to lower their demands.

Draftpick Deadline Tonight

Yonder AlonsoLast year was the first under Major League Baseball's new rules for signing draft picks. It used to be that clubs had until one week prior to the next draft to sign their draftees. Now, the deadline is August 15, over 9 months earlier than what it used to be! Despite a drastically earlier deadline, every first round pick signed last year.

I did not think everyone would sign in 2007, I am even less confident about the 2008 crop. Too many remain unsigned with less than 12 hours before the deadline approaches, including a whopping 6 out of the top 10. Here are all the remaining unsigned first-round picks, with the rumors I am hearing, and my gut feeling on whether they will sign or not.

Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pirates (2nd overall) - If you could not tell from Pittsburgh's deadline deals, their top priority right now is replenishing their farm system. On top of that, they have a bad rap the last couple years of being unwilling to shell out the big money for big-time prospects. While trying to work out a deal for Alvarez, the Pirates have also been trying to assess the arm strength of their second-round pick, RHP Tanner Scheppers, to determine if they want to sign him, and for how much. The bottom line is that the Pirates have way too many reasons that they need to sign Alvarez, and it is doubtful Alvarez will earn much (if any) more money by returning to school. I think he will sign.

Eric Hosmer, 1B, Royals (3rd overall) - Eric, a high-schooler, has a full-ride scholarship to Arizona State and Scott Boras negotiating, two big reasons to think he will not sign. But, ultimately, this is eerily similar to the situation the Royals had last year with Mike Moustakas. They got him signed, so I think Hosmer will sign too.

Brian Matusz, LHP, Orioles (4th overall) - Rumors are that the two sides are close to an agreement as I write this. The 2009 draft pitching crop looks strong right now, so the odds of Matusz getting more money next year are slim. On top of that, Baltimore has all their other picks signed (that are going to sign), so they have the luxury of completely focusing on this deal at the deadline. It is safe to say that Matusz will sign.

Buster Posey, C, Giants (5th overall) - There are also rumors this morning that the two sides in these negotiations are close to a deal. Posey has been asking for a ton of money, and it will be interesting to see what kind of perks his deal includes. I have a hunch he will get a guaranteed major-league contract, which is a major perk. Even though these negotiations look like they have been tough, Posey maximized his draft stock with the epic year he had, and the Giants desperately need position players in their farm system. The high mutual interest in getting this deal done is why I say he will sign. Interestingly, the Giants are yet to sign several of their higher picks, and at this point they may not have enough time to work out contracts with all of them. How quickly this deal falls in place today could be crucial to the team's ability to sign their other remaining picks.

Yonder Alonso, 1B, Reds (7th overall) - Scott Boras is going to be a busy man today, as (surprise) a significant number of the picks on this list are his clients. Alonso is one of them. The rumor is that the Reds are offering a slot-level contract to Yonder (MLB has a slotting system for draft pick contracts like the NBA, but it's only a suggested contract in MLB), but he wants twice that. Alonso has also stated that he would be perfectly fine with going back to Miami and finishing out his college career, which I do not think is a bluff. He has steadily progressed, and it is fair to think that he could be drafted this high next year, if not higher. From the Reds stand-point, there is not a massive need to budge on their rumored offer either, since they already have a young first baseman in the majors in Joey Votto. This is one pick that I think will not sign.

Aaron Crow, RHP, Nationals (9th overall) - The Nationals are offering Crow a contract similar to the one they signed Ross Detwiler to a year ago. Considering Detwiler was selected a few slots higher last year, that is a plenty fair deal. However, Crow wants a ton more. Washington could really use some pitching, and frankly Crow probably only went this high because it was a down year for pitching prospects. It is only logical that Crow will sign, but there is also a report that he has already signed with an independent league team, which may trump reasoning in this case. That is enough for me to say that Crow will not sign.

Justin Smoak, 1B, Rangers (11th overall) - Smoak could have been a high draft pick coming out of high school, but his commitment to South Carolina was way too strong. So, he probably would not have a huge problem returning to school. The popular thinking is that Smoak is waiting to see how much Alonso gets. However, I don't think Alonso is going to sign. I have no idea what that would do to these negotiations. Texas is not exactly hurting on offense, and Smoak probably would have gone higher in a draft with average depth at first base. Still, despite all that, I will go on a true gut feeling with minimal reasoning to back it up. I'm going to say that Smoak will sign.

Josh Fields, RHP, Mariners (20th overall) - Nobody can figure out why Fields has not signed yet. He is a college senior, so he cannot go back to school. Rumors are that the Mariners have offered a contract right in line with his slot too. Fields even said on draft day that he was looking forward to getting in the organization and pitching right away, with some thinking he could reach the majors by September. Obviously, that is not going to happen. This deadline actually means nothing for this pick, thanks to an odd loophole in the rules. Since Fields is a college senior, the Mariners have until a week before next year's draft to sign him, meaning there is no real urgency to get the deal done now. Considering Scott Boras is his agent, and he is going to be busy with plenty of other clients today, I would think that this deal will be the last priority today. Ultimately, Fields will sign...but not today

Allan Dykstra, 1B, Padres (23rd overall) - It looked like Dykstra was close to signing a while ago, but then the Padres found something in his hip from high school that bothers them. It looks as if it bothered them enough to drop their offer, and obviously Dykstra is yet to take it. Another big year at Wake Forest could vault Allan up in the draft, especially with a crop of first-baseman that is bounder to be weaker than this year's. It looks to me like Dykstra will not sign.

Gerrit Cole, RHP, Yankees (28th overall) - This has all the making of a classic last-minute, maximum-leverage, Scott Boras deal. Boras is looking to sign Cole to a contract similar to the one he got for Rick Porcello last year. On the surface, it seems fair. Porcello was the 27th pick last year and was one of the best high school arms in the nation, much like Cole. However, Porcello fell solely because of signability issues, meaning the team that eventually took him (the Tigers) went well beyond the slot recommendation for a 27th pick to sign him. Cole is nowhere near as polished as Porcello, and so the Yankees are rightly holding their ground. In the end, New York has the money, Boras is simply trying to maximize the contract he can get for Cole, and I have a hard time believing Gerrit will turn down a chance to wear the fabled pinstripes. Cole will sign.

History says that virtually all first-round draft picks sign these days. Teams do too much scouting and sink too much money in the draft now to be completely surprised by a player's demands, or be unwilling to pay a little more than they wanted to. Plus, from the prospect's standpoint, how easy is it to turn down millions of dollars? It is safe to assume the deal will get done when it comes to baseball prospects. But, it sure seems like there are too many deals to get done in a few hours this year.

Looks Like Washburn Is Staying

Jarrod WashburnToday, John Hickey of the Seattle Post-Intellegencer reported that the waivers on Jarrod Washburn and Raul Ibanez have expired, meaning both are staying in Seattle through at least the remainder of this season. There is still no report on the team that claimed Ibanez, but Hickey says it was the Twins that put a claim on Washburn. I am pleased to see that Ibanez is staying, but I cannot say the same for Washburn.

Taking a super quick look at Minnesota's farm system, I do not think they were as good of a trading partner as the Yankees. So, it is not surprising at all that no deal was struck. Still, if this report and the reports at the deadline are true, Seattle has now passed up two opportunities to dump Washburn's salary. To me, that borders on inexcusable.

I have never been a big fan of Jarrod Washburn's, so admittedly I am a little jaded. On top of that, I also have to admit that he is far from the biggest problem on the team. However, this team's payroll will be perpetually handcuffed as long as they continue to pay Washburn, Miguel Batista, and Carlos Silva big money to be mediocre pitchers (and combined they aren't even close to mediocre this year). Nobody will trade for Batista because he's been so awful, and Silva's contract is too big for a team to be interested in trying to revive him. That leaves Washburn as the only piece in the trio that could realistically be traded, and the level of interest he has received over the past month gave the Mariners surprising leverage. It should have been a no-brainer to trade Jarrod at some point in the past month.

The Mariners treated Washburn like he is an indespensible part of the team, when in reality he is part of a trio that needs to be broken up. I doubt his value will ever be higher than it was at the trade deadline, though he probably can still be moved in the off-season for something. Once the team starts interviewing candidates for the GM job, I hope they are all asked what they would do with the Silva/Batista/Washburn trio. If a candidate answers with anything besides "try to trade at least one of them," I would cross them off the list immediately.

Ominous Start for USA Baseball

USA BaseballThe United States Olympic baseball team played their first game today, and lost to Korea 7-6. USA trailed for almost the entire game, but scored three runs in the ninth to take a one-run lead. Korea, designated the home team, then scored twice in the bottom of the ninth to take the game. Before today, USA baseball was undefeated in opening games at the Olympics, and also undefeated against Korea. The Olympics uses a round-robin format for the baseball tournament, so USA still has at least six games remaining. The team has plenty of time to rebound from this loss, but it still is a tough one to take.

Korea deserves some credit for how well they played. Former MLB player Jung Bong started for them, and looked surprisingly sharp. Every reliever that followed him, with the exception of Ki joo Han, also looked fairly good. On top of that, their lineup flashed surprising power and an ability to catch up to pitchers with a little better velocity than they are likely used to.

In small sample sizes (such as one game), luck plays a surprisingly large role in the outcome of a baseball game. For the most part, skill takes the better part of a season to truly separate, so even a round-robin tournament like the Olympics takes a surprising amount of luck to win. It would be easy to say that team USA was due to lose an opener, and lose to Korea. Both were probably true, but there were still some very ominous signs from the game.

I am worried that the coaching staff has taken this team and made them worse than they should be. Baseball at the international level is not as different as basketball, but different regions have slightly different styles of play that, based on today's performance, I think the coaching staff has completely ignored. To start with, it is known that across Asia (especially in Japan and Korea), pitchers feature their breaking ball much more than American pitchers. This is a very well-known fact too; M's pitchers have belly ached throughout the year about how Kenji calls so many breaking balls, as if they are playing in Japan. The propensity of breaking pitches hitters see is also the reason scouts questioned if position players like Ichiro and Hideki Matsui would be able to handle the fastball in the majors.

So, even with no scouting report whatsoever on the Korean team, I would have had the Asian style of pitching in mind. As a result, I probably would have started a more powerful pitcher (like Jake Arrieta), and made the Korean hitters prove that they could handle a power pitcher. More importantly, I would have warned my hitters about all the breaking balls they would probably see. I would have told them to sit on the breaking ball instead of the fastball.

What did team USA do? They started Brandon Knight, a pitcher that has a decent fastball, but that ultimately survives by mixing speeds with an effective breaking ball. Knight's last tune-up against Canada was very impressive, so I am not that irritated that he got the opening start in the Olympics. However, I don't think several of the team's younger, more powerful pitchers are much (if any) worse than Knight right now, and I think any of them would have been a more difficult match-up for Korea's hitters. In the end, it may have not made a difference, given the surprising bat speed that I saw out of their lineup.

I was stunned at how bad team USA's hitting was today, and I have a hunch it is due to inept coaching. For the first eight innings, all the hitters took huge swings over the tops of breaking balls. They were clearly going for home runs (which the commentators assured was Davey Johnson's style of play, and what the team had in mind when building the offense), and I am definitely in support of power over small ball. However, they were completely geared for the fastball all day, and stubbornly stuck with their approach regardless of any situation. As a result, Tae hyon Chong, nothing more than a glorified underhand junkball pitcher, struck out six USA hitters in a row at one point. It seems that even the Koreans were stunned at how effective he was, considering they decided to take him out after only one time through the lineup. Maybe Chong was tired, but the commentators hypothesized that maybe Korea thought that the USA hitters would figure out the second time around that Chong was just throwing slow breaking garbage at them, and the US would start to tee off. After thinking about the game some, the commentators may have been right.

I was about to give Korea's pitching all the credit until the ninth inning. That's when Korea brought in Ki joo Han, who looked like their best reliever. He had the best arm of all the pitchers they had used. Han came in throwing fastballs, and all of sudden the USA offense came to life. They bludgeoned Han's fastball all over the park, despite seeing a steady diet of breaking balls for the first eight innings. I expected the team to be behind on his fastball, but the opposite was true. Korea's manager noticed this, and intelligently brought in another breaking ball pitcher. Outside of Matt Brown's fantastic at-bat in the ninth, team USA immediately was crippled again.

The USA hitters have seen breaking balls at least as good as the ones Korea was throwing today. Maybe they do not crush breaking balls, but there is no way they all could have advanced to AA and AAA by crushing fastballs and flailing away at breaking pitches as bad as they did today. Sure, players have bad days, but the entire team making the same mistake over and over (and not adjusting) makes me leery. It wreaks of a bad coaching job to me.

Team USA better figure out the breaking ball in a hurry. Japan should feature just as many breaking pitches, except they will likely have sharper break and better command. Really, after today, I don't know why any team in the tournament would bother throwing anything but breaking balls to USA. They were so geared for the fastball it was pathetic. Maybe it was just a bad day, but the violent swings and misses all day may point towards a fatal tactical error.

Olympic Ballplayers To Watch

Trevor CahillThe Olympics are getting underway, and as it stands now this will be the last time baseball is a part of the games. It seems odd, given the game's international prominence, but interest at the Olympic level is hampered significantly by the Major League Baseball season. Teams are not willing to let any of their players (much less their best) leave for two weeks in the middle of a pennant chase, and that is understandable.

That does not mean that the Olympics will not feature a host of baseball players worth watching though. The minor league seasons do not stop, but teams do allow players who are not in line for an immediate call-up to participate. So, to a certain extent, the Olympics are somewhere between the All-Star Futures game and the World Baseball Classic. Here are some notable players that have made the trek to Beijing:

CANADA

Stubby Clapp, INF, Astros - Clapp made a little bit of a name for himself several years ago when he first made the majors because of his awesome name. He has since retired from Major League Baseball, and is actually a hitting instructor in the Astros minor-league system. But, at least for the duration of the Olympics, he has come out of retirement.

Brett Lawrie, INF, Brewers - Lawrie is Milwaukee's first-round draft pick this year, and rose up draft boards after hitting well on the Canadian national team. He is yet to appear in a minor league game, and he is one of the youngest baseball players at the Olympics. Obviously, Lawrie is highly regarded, but still rather raw and unexperienced.

Michael Saunders, OF, Mariners - Yes, the Mariners do have an Olympian! Saunders has been rising fast through the system, and is one of the M's best prospects. He was promoted to Tacoma midway through the season, and he has experienced some ups and downs in AAA. Still, Saunders is likely one of the best players at the Olympics, and he also has a promising future ahead of him.

NETHERLANDS

Loek Van Mil, RHP, Twins - While Van Mil has nice numbers in A-ball this year, one thing makes him extraordinary: his size. He is listed at 7'1", so it should be fairly easy to tell if he is on the mound.

CHINESE TAIPEI (Taiwan)

Kuo Hi Lo, OF, Mariners - In fact, the Mariners have two Olympians! Luo is not as highly regarded as Saunders though. Lo is actually older and only in advanced A ball. Still, he is a Mariner, and this will be the only time to possible catch him on television this year.

Chin-Hui Tsao, RHP, Royals - Tsao was a pretty big prospect when he was coming up with the Rockies, but injuries derailed his career. Last year he made it back to the majors with the Dodgers. Tsao is yet to crack the majors and stick, but I think he still has something to offer. Perhaps a sparkling performance in the Olympics would be noticed.

UNITED STATES

Brett Anderson, LHP, Athletics - Anderson was one of several talented players the A's acquired in the Dan Haren trade, and he has been deceptively good this year. He started the year in advanced A ball, but received a recent promotion to AA despite a 4.14 ERA. That's because his WHIP was barely over 1.00 and he was striking out well over a batter an inning, with only 5 home runs allowed in 74 innings pitched. He has looked good in AA so far too.

Jake Arrieta, RHP, Orioles - Jake already got some exposure as a futures game selection this year, and now he will get a little more in China. All he has done is go out and handle AA with relative ease, as a 2.87 ERA, .199 opponents batting average, and 120 strikeouts in 113 innings attest to. His 51 walks say he is not a polished product, but the talent is there.

Matt Brown, 3B, Angels - A local product from Bellevue, Brown has received brief cups of coffee in the majors both in 2007 and this year. His AAA numbers are quite good, though he also plays his home games in a very offense-friendly ballpark. Still, he definitely has some power, and he has local ties.

Trevor Cahill, RHP, Athletics - If you want to know why the A's are going to be really good in a few years, watch the Olympics. Cahill was a futures game selection this year, and is rocketing through the A's farm system right now. He is only 20 years old, but has already advanced to AA and is succeeding. Back in 2000, Ben Sheets first made a name for himself when he dominated the Cuban national team in the Olympics. If I had to pick a player on the USA roster to deliver a similar performance this year, it would be Cahill.

Matt LaPorta, OF, Indians - LaPorta is probably the best hitter at the Olympics. He was the centerpiece in the package that Cleveland received for CC Sabathia, and he has a ton of power. Between being selected for the futures game this year and a major piece in a blockbuster trade, LaPorta already is about as high-profile as a AA ballplayer can get.

Jayson Nix, 2B, Rockies - Nix was the opening day second baseman for the Rockies this year, so he hardly had Olympic dreams just a few months ago. However, he got off to a horribly slow start, and was sent down to AAA. Nix has rebounding extremely well, but Colorado apparently likes the other players that have emerged to the point that they felt comfortable letting him go to Beijing.

Nate Schierholtz, OF, Giants - Nate had real good numbers in AAA last year, and is having another real good season. Given San Francisco's weak offense, it seems that he should be up in the majors. But, a chance to compete in the Olympics is not a bad consolation prize at all.

Casey Weathers, RHP, Rockies - A first-round pick just a year ago, Weathers is already producing in AA. He was a closer in college, and is working through the minors as a closer too. Weathers features an overpowering fastball in the upper-90s, and a slider that sits around 90. It is the same combination that makes Brad Lidge dominant, and that made Robb Nen such a great closer. Casey does not have great command of his stuff quite yet, but it is more than good enough with his stuff to make a good showing at the Olympics.

Baseball is not one of the feature sports at the Olympics, but it should not be overlooked. There is more talent in the Olympic baseball tournament than many realize. The United States did not qualify in 2004, but it is back with a strong squad, particularly in the pitching department. Hopefully, Olympic baseball will go out in glory.

If I Were In Charge (August Edition)

Ryan FeierabendThe trade deadline has come and gone for the Mariners, with only a minor deal shipping away Arthur Rhodes happening. The complete truth around the Jarrod Washburn trade rumors may never be known, but if I were the M's I would have given him away for fairly cheap (especially if the Yankees could have been coaxed into taking most of his salary). Now, the dog days of August are here, but thanks to the Morrow transition there is still some intrigue around this ballclub. There is also the potential for some more deals. As is pounded into everyone's head by sports media outlets these days, deals can be made after July 31. In fact, since the "trade deadline" rules for baseball are so mysterious, here is exactly how they work:
  1. July 31 is the last day in a season that players can be traded without passing through waivers. Without going into detail too much on the waiver process, basically a player can be placed on waivers at any time. When they are put on waivers, any team can put a "claim" on the player. If a player is claimed, then the current organization can let the player go and receive nothing in return. In this scenario, the new team must take on all of the player's remaining contract. However, if a player is claimed, the player can be pulled off of waivers and kept by the original team, or the player can be pulled from waivers and a trade can be worked out with the team that claimed the player. So, basically, July 31 is the last day during the season that trades can be made with complete freedom.
  2. September 1 is known best as the day that rosters can be expanded, but it is perhaps more important for another reason. Any players added to a team's 40-man roster after September 1 are not eligible for a team's post-season roster. That is why August 31 is considered a trade deadline of sorts, especially for teams in contention. September trades are extremely rare (the last one I can remember is when the Pirates traded Brian Giles to the Padres), but they can happen. Waiver rules for trades still apply in September.
  3. Once the off-season starts, the rules "reset" in a sense. In other words, players do not have to pass through waivers to be traded in the off-season, and can be moved without passing through waivers until after next July 31.
So, technically, there is no trade deadline in baseball at all. It is just convenient to think of a couple days as trade deadlines, because rules make July 31 and August 31 quasi-deadlines. Hopefully this clears up some confusion on what is a rather confusing set of rules, since the actual rules are rarely all stated together.

Anyway, the actual point of this post is not to just outline what the Mariners could do, but specifically what I would do if I were the Mariners interim GM right now. Any post-July 31 discussion must start with placing players on waivers. Here are the players I would put out there, and what I would hope/expect to happen:
  1. Kenji Johjima - His contract is horrible, and even though Jeff Clement is yet to light up major league pitching, he is a safe bet to be a better backstop than Johjima for the next three years. At the very least, Clement will be a much cheaper ineffective catcher. Given Johjima's bad contract, I would expect him to pass through waivers, and I also doubt anyone would want him in a trade. I wouldn't cut Johjima either, so in the end this waiver move is one that would probably never be known publicly. But, if a team does claim Johjima, I would let them take him, solely because I want to get his contract off the books. Why not test the waters risk-free, to see if some team will take Kenji's contract?
  2. Miguel Batista - I could copy what I just wrote for Johjima. Batista goes on the waiver wire for the same reasons: he is rather pricey, and rather ineffective. However, Miguel still has pretty good velocity, and he does have post-season experience, as well as considerable experience as a starter and reliever. Furthermore, his contract does not have as many years remaining as Kenji's, so it is not quite as bad. I still would not expect a team to claim Batista, but I think he has a much better chance of being claimed than Kenji. Once again, if a team claims him, I would let them have him. If Miguel passes through waivers, I would strongly consider releasing him.
  3. Miguel Cairo - I would much rather use Cairo's roster spot on an additional September call-up than on him for the remainder of the season. I do think there is a very good chance someone would claim him, and I would let him go. If he passes through waivers, then I would release him. I would call up Tug Hulett to replace Cairo, and add Matt Tuiasosopo to the 40-man roster, and call him up on September 1.
  4. Willie Bloomquist - Willie has stunningly little power, and he thinks he might be able to grab a starting job somewhere next year through free agency. Even though he is a local product, I think the chances of him leaving in the off-season are pretty good, and I would not be heart-broken since he brings absolutely no power to the table. However, a guy with his versatility, his speed, a .280 batting average, and .380 on-base may be appealing to a contender looking to bolster their bench for cheap. If Bloomquist were claimed, I would work out a trade with whomever claimed him, keeping in mind that there may be a compensatory draft pick coming if he is lost in free agency, given how much he has played this year.
  5. Jarrod Washburn - Washburn is probably the most interesting player waiver-wise the Mariners have. He was close to getting dealt at the deadline, so there is obviously some interest in him. If the Yankees were willing to take his whole salary at the deadline and it was the prospect package that held up the deal, they certainly would claim him on waivers. My suspicion is that some team would claim Jarrod, and if he is claimed, I would work out a trade. Of all the players I have on this list, I think a Washburn move is the most realistic.
Hypothetically, let's suppose that Cairo, Bloomquist, and Washburn are claimed, and that Cairo is allowed to go, a trade is worked out with the team that claims Washburn, and Bloomquist is pulled back from waivers and kept. This means that Kenji and Miguel passed through waivers. Given this hypothetical, this would be my plan through August:
  1. I already said that Tug Hulett would replace Miguel Cairo on the roster, so that was basically given in this scenario.
  2. A Bloomquist/Hulett platoon at shortstop could work surprisingly well, and I would recommend that Riggleman try it. In AAA, Hulett has destroyed righties but struggled against lefties (though in limited opportunities), while Willie has been noticably better against lefties this year. As much as I like Betancourt, he really needs to learn to take a few pitches, and I think a legitimate benching may be the best way to get across the message at this point.
  3. As a side note, especially with Bloomquist in a platoon at shortstop, I would put Jeremy Reed in left field, Ichiro back in center, and Balentien in right. Raul Ibanez stays in the lineup as the DH. This gets the two M's outfielders with best range in left and center (where Safeco field is most spacious), and the two M's outfielders with the strongest arms in center and right (where the longest outfield throws come from). That outfield alignment may do more for to improve the pitching than anything else.
  4. Getting rid of Washburn is key, because I want to take a look at Brandon Morrow, Ryan Rowland-Smith, and Ryan Feierabend as starters. I would call up Rowland-Smith to take Washburn's place, because I think he is the closest to ready (unless Erik Bedard is ready to come off the DL). Miguel Batista and R.A. Dickey are the next two out of the rotation once Feierabend and Morrow are ready, and to make room for both of them I would send down Jared Wells and and release Miguel Batista (the salary hit is easier to take with Washburn's contract off the books). If Erik Bedard gets healthy, I would strongly consider a six-man rotation the rest of the way, just to see RRS, Morrow, and Feierabend all get regular starts.
This is a very realistic hypothetical scenario, and could be executed by an interim GM. These are not moves that greatly alter the talent pool for future years, but do allow for better evaluation of prospects and a little more payroll flexibility. However, this is a team that held on to Jose Vidro until August, so I am not holding my breath.

Mariners Slowly Improving

Jose VidroI went away on vacation over two weeks ago, and I just got back yesterday. I did not have any ridiculous hopes of some miraculous turn-around or amazing trade happening while I was away. However, I had a list of fairly realistic things that I hoped the Mariners would do while I was gone:

  1. Get rid of Jose Vidro
  2. Begin transitioning Brandon Morrow into a starter
  3. Trade Miguel Cairo and/or Willie Bloomquist
  4. Trade Jarrod Washburn and/or Miguel Batista
  5. Get rid of Jose Vidro
Admittedly, trades take a partner, so I realized wishes three and four may not happen even if the Mariners tried. From what I've gathered, Jarrod Washburn was quite close to being shipped ot the Yankees, but the Mariners had too high of an asking price. As disappointing as that was to hear, I was going to be quite upset if one, two, and five had not been taken care of. Thankfully, they were...though it took until the very last day of my vacation.

The timing of the moves really says something about the state of the organization right now. It is in better shape now, because I doubt the Bavasi/McLaren combo would have considered releasing Vidro, or moving Morrow from the bullpen. However, the current interim regime seems to have a hard time pulling the trigger on even the most obvious moves. I understand a reluctance to make major trades that would alter the franchise for years to come, given the interim status. However, everyone could tell that Vidro was not helping the ballclub now, and he certainly had no future with the team either.

The Morrow "conundrum" was even more pathetic. Supposedly, the organization as a whole was split on what to do with him. Those who wanted him to remain in the bullpen argued that there is no guarantee he will be as good as a starter, and that was apparently a good enough argument to keep him from transitioning for months. How pathetic is that? I happen to agree with the argument, yet also think that it is obviously the right move to try Morrow as a starter. This season is now all about evaluation, as even the Mariners have admitted. So, will there ever be a better time to try Morrow as a starter, and take the risk that he may be much worse as a starter than a reliever? Hopefully not.

At least the Mariners are getting better, but much too slowly. I understand that outside help through free agency and major trades has to wait until the off-season, once a permanent GM and manager are hired. However, there is no excuse for how long some of the blatantly obvious internal moves have taken. At least they finally were made, but whoever takes over next year needs to be more punctual.