Minor League Catching Options

The Mariners could use some catching depth with the departure of Kenji Johjima, but at a cheap price. It makes sense to go with Adam Moore and Rob Johnson in 2010, leaving whomever is signed to spend the majority of the year in AAA. Hence, the best fit might be a minor league free agent. Here are some of the better options:

  • Orlando Mercado - Orlando will be just 25 years old when the 2010 season starts, so he still has some upside. He hasn't played above AA yet, and he has extremely limited power. However, he has a good eye at the plate, and his short stature lends itself nicely to sitting low behind the plate (something pitchers generally prefer).
  • Steve Torrealba - The lesser-known brother of current Rockies (and former M's) catcher Yorvit Torrealba has some big league experience, and has hit well in limited opportunities the past few years in the minors. He will be 32 years old when the season starts, so he is at an age where catchers are prone to trailing off considerably. However, the experience and flashes of productivity the past few years are worth a look in spring training.
  • Mike Rabelo - This is a bit of a stretch. Rabelo missed almost all of last season, and is now 30 years old with only a couple cups of coffee in the majors. However, big league experience is still big league experience, he is also a switch-hitter, and he has shown a little bit of pop in the past.
  • Neil Wilson - Wilson, like Rabelo, didn't play much last year. However, he has shown some power at every level, and is still relatively young at 26 years old. In lower levels he split time between catcher and DH. I'm not sure if that's a commentary on his bat or his defense.
  • J.R. House - His 2009 campaign was bad, and at 30 years old it may be a sign that he's done for. However, if House returns to his 2008 form, he's worth picking up. Somebody should send him an invitation to spring training.
  • Gabriel Gutierrez - Gabriel has bounced around between leagues the last few years, showing little flashes here and there. He is only 26 years old, and with a few flashes, he might be worth a closer look. Consistent playing time for more than a month in one place might let him develop into a decent backstop.
  • Rene Rivera - Yes, this is the same Rivera that's easy to forget from the pre-Johjima years. The Mariners rushed Rene to the majors and derailed his development. However, he has started to find a power stroke (though with tons of Ks), and he is still pretty young at 26 years old. At 5'10", 230 pounds, Rivera is short and stalky, which in my opinion is the ideal build for a catcher.
The reality is that all these catching options have noticeable flaws. The most complete backstop of the bunch is probably Torrealba. However, this is a hunt for a third-string catcher, and these are minor league free agents for a reason. However, what is nice about these players is that it should only take a minor league contract to get these guys in the organization. If I were Jack Z, I'd try to sign a whole bunch of these guys, like maybe five or six of them. Throw a handful of them against the roster, and see who sticks. Whatever minor league free agents lack in quality, they sort of make up for in quantity.

A Rosterful Weekend

The Mariners set their 40-man roster heading into free agency by the Friday deadline. Players not on the 40-man roster are eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, unless they are still pretty young (highly imprecise definition, but that's the basic idea). As we have come to expect under Jack Zduriencik, the M's were one of the most active teams. They added six prospects to the roster, lost a couple pitchers through waivers, and through it all the most interesting note from the weekend might be a potential position switch for a top prospect.

First off, the additions:
  • Dan Cortes, RHP - Cortes was the prize of the Yuni Betancourt trade. He still has good stuff, but has control issues. Still, he is likely to hit AAA at some point this year. Definitely worth protecting.
  • Ricky Orta, RHP - Orta spent most of the season in AA West Tennessee's bullpen, and enjoyed his finest professional season to date. He has a live arm, and maybe something clicked for him this past year. He should be in AAA in 2010.
  • Edward Paredes, LHP - I am surprised that Paredes was added to the roster. He is yet to show much potential, and he has not played above advanced A ball. I don't think a team would have looked at Paredes as a possible Rule 5 pick, and even if they did, I'm not sure I'd feel real bad.
  • JC Ramirez, LHP - The pitcher formerly know as Juan Ramirez (and still listed by most sources as Juan Ramirez) is an interesting case. Scouts continue to rave about his stuff and mental makeup. However, he is yet to turn that into real solid success, even in the low minors. Given how much some think of his future, he definitely is worth protecting, even though he has at least a few years before he is ready for the majors.
  • Anthony Varvaro, RHP - Like several M's pitching prospects this past season, Varvaro was shifted from the rotation to the bullpen, and found much more success. His stuff is electric, though he doesn't always know exactly where the ball is going. Still, especially after a solid AFL showing, it was time to protect Varvaro. It wouldn't be shocking if he plays with the M's at some point this season either.
  • Ezequiel Carrera, OF - As if the Putz deal didn't look bad enough for the Mets already, Carrera exploded in AA for the M's in 2009. He doesn't have power, but he makes consistent contact, has a great eye at the plate, and uses his speed for all it is worth. He has the skillset of a prototypical leadoff hitter, and will be in AAA in 2010.
In the process, the M's exposed three players to waivers. Josh Wilson was outrighted to AAA, so the Mariners held on to him. However, they lost RHP Chris Jakubauskas to the Pirates, and RHP Robert Manuel to the Red Sox. Jakubauskas was the surprise of last year's spring training, and carved out a spot in long relief for most of 2009. He had a long road to the majors, which certainly showed with how much he enjoyed his time with the Mariners. For all those personal reasons, I am sorry to see him leave.

Manuel never appeared in a game for the Mariners. He was the player acquired in the Wladimir Balentien trade. In the end, he was a Mariner barely long enough to say hi before we say bye.

Ultimately, Jakubauskas and Manuel are the definition of replaceable relievers. Every team can use a few of them, but they are not highly difficult to find. I would much rather have guys like Varvaro, Ramirez, and Cortes protected, because there are good reasons to think that they will be above replacement level once they develop. Holding on to replacement level players for dear life was part of what got Bavasi in trouble as a GM. It destroyed roster flexibility for no good reason.

All the moves leave the Mariners with 37 players on their 40-man roster. That number does not include free agents like Russell Branyan, Adrian Beltre, and Erik Bedard. Obviously, additions will be made, so the space is needed. Still, since I didn't have to give up Manuel and Jakubauskas yet, I probably would have kept them. On the flip side though, if it was certain that they were going to leave, it is nicer for their futures to let them move on as early as possible.

Now, despite all those transactions, the biggest news of the weekend regards Dustin Ackley. The Mariners are going to have him work out at second base in January. For now it is an experiment, but I think it is an experiment that Seattle really hopes works out.

The Mariners have a logjam in the outfield. Franklin Gutierrez and Ichiro are not going anywhere anytime soon. Michael Saunders may be the opening day left fielder, and his future seems to be pretty bright. Ezequiel Carrera and Tyson Gillies both are promising top-of-the-order bats. Joe Dunigan performed fairly well in the AFL after a breakout 2009 campaign, so he can't be ignored either. It is hard to think that nobody out of that bunch of youngsters pans out.

The infield, however, is a different story. Matt Tuiasosopo is close to ready, but most do not see him sticking at second base long-term, if he ever plays there regularly. Carlos Triunfel lost a year with the broken leg, and he also does not appear to be a second baseman long-term. As of now, the M's best second base prospect might be Kyle Seager, Ackley's UNC teammate and fellow 2009 draftee.

If Ackley can play at second base, his bat would become even more valuable. There are not many good hitting second baseman, and even fewer of them defend well. Ackley, with his athleticism, baseball acumen, and work ethic, has a good chance to be the complete package at second.

I am excited that the Mariners are going to work Ackley out at second base. It makes some sense with where the roster is at right now. It further paves the way for Jose Lopez to get traded, or move to third base. Either move makes more sense than keeping him at second base.

This team continues to find ways to get better. It is either a sign of progress, or of complete ineptitude, when a guy who pitched as much as Jakubauskas is let go for nothing. In this case, it is progress. Two years ago, the M's were cutting players loose like Richie Sexson and Jose Vidro. Now, teams want the M's scraps. This roster still has a long way to go, but it has also come a long way.

Scioscia AL Manager of the Year

Mike SciosciaZack Greinke should have been a no-brainer for AL Cy Young, and in the end he ran away with it. Mike Scioscia was an even surer bet for Manager of the Year, so it is no surprise he got the honor today.

If I had a vote, I would have given it to Scioscia, which is saying something. I've always felt that he is an overrated manager. His on-the-field strategies are among the worst in baseball. He is way too aggressive with bunting, hit-and-running, and generally anything associated with "small ball." He's had guys like Garret Anderson, Vladimir Guerrero, Mark Teixeira, and now Kendry Morales. The power in the heart of the lineups he has managed have been the backbones of his successful offenses, not all the bunting and running.

Scioscia's bullpen use has been questionable too. Jose Arredando struggled early, but Kevin Jepsen was not an upgrade. However, Jepsen is big and throws hard, and that was all he needed to do to be a weapon in Scioscia's eyes. Also, though GM Tony Reagins is who signed Brian Fuentes, I'd guess that Scioscia had some say in the matter. Although Fuentes accumulated plenty of saves, he hardly lived up to the contract he signed.

Despite all that (maybe there really is something to the rally monkey), the Angels win year in and year out, and that makes Mike Scioscia a respected manager. Players love playing for him too, only adding to his venerable stature.

This year, despite the tactical shortcomings, Scioscia more than earned the honor as top manager in the AL. His strategic tactics weren't any better, but make no mistake, this was his best managing job yet. In fact, it was so good, he made me re-think the value of a manager.

At the start of the season, Kelvim Escobar and John Lackey were on the DL. That helped open up a great opportunity for top prospect Nick Adenhart. He had a nice start, and then died in a tragic car crash.

Died.

How in the world does a team deal with that? Active players don't die. It's very rare. A promising prospect with a bright future is heart-breaking. The way he went, at the hands of an ignorant drunk driver, is soul-crushing.

On top of all that, his untimely passing left the Angels down yet another starting pitcher. Talk about a gaping hole in every way imaginable.

Somehow, through all that, the Angels persevered. Kelvim Escobar never really came back, but once Lackey did, the team took off. In the end, the Angels ran away with what proved to be a much tougher division than expected.

Between heavy hearts, a patchwork starting rotation for the first couple months, an offense incorporating youngsters Erick Aybar and Kendry Morales, and the upstart Rangers and Mariners, the Angels had lots of reasons to give up. They had a toxic concoction by about mid-April. Somehow, the team wasn't poisoned though, and Scioscia has to get a ton of the credit for that. He got the best out of his players, and as they started to win games, and started to get players back, they blossomed into one of the AL's finest teams. Remarkably, Mike Scioscia fostered an environment that the players thrived in, despite the difficult circumstances they faced.

I've tended to downplay the impact a manager has on a team. Baseball is so different from other team sports. Coaches call plays, and constantly shift personnel in other sports. However, tactically, the biggest impact a manager has on the game is at the very start, with the lineup card. There are in-game decisions to be made, but nothing as significant as the starting nine. Unlike in other sports, the manager is nothing more than an interested observer for much of the game.

Tactically, I believe most managers are at the same level. There are a couple bad ones, and maybe a couple good ones, but the vast majority are equally matched. This is why I have tended to think that the impact of most managers is overrated. This is also why I never thought I would endorse Mike Scioscia as Manager of the Year. I honestly think his strategies are often counterproductive.

Yet, watching the Angels and Scioscia this year convinced me that there is more to managing. There is something to the environment and culture a manager develops in the clubhouse. Don Wakamatsu did a ton to convince me of this too.

It's similar to studying environments. Students don't seek out construction zones or runways to review for big tests. They choose their own bedroom, a library, or maybe a coffee shop. They generally choose some place quiet, though some areas are more quiet than others.

A baseball team, on some level, is the same way. They will play better in an environment more conducive to performing at a high level. The manager has significant influence over their team's environment, from the way they communicate to players, to the drills the team runs, to countless other things. I think most managers have a feel for what a good environment is. However, just like the best students know whether the library or the coffee shop is a better study space for them, a great manager knows how to tweak the environment to maximize it for their team.

That's where Mike Scioscia shines. He knows how to create a terrific environment for his team, year in and year out, no matter what. I have a hard time believing many managers could have adapted to the extreme circumstances Scioscia faced with the Angels this year, and that is why he is the 2009 AL Manager of the Year.

Felix Second, Greinke First in Cy Young Voting

Felix HernandezI am happy that Felix Hernandez finished second in the AL Cy Young voting for two reasons:
  1. The price to re-sign Felix would be higher if he had won the Cy Young
  2. Zack Greinke really, really deserved the award
Felix deserved it too, and it's true that in many years he would have won it with the way he performed in 2009. However, analyzing Zack Greinke's numbers is a study of how bad the Royals were. Here are some fun numbers for thought, all based on Greinke's 16-8 record:
  • Greinke went only 12-8 once he gave up an earned run in 2009.
  • The Royals went only 8-2 in starts which Greinke allowed no earned runs.
  • Four of Greinke's eight losses were quality starts
  • Five of Greinke's nine no decisions were quality starts
  • Only seven of Grienke's starts were not quality starts. Of those seven, Greinke won two of those games. Those were both games where he went five innings and allowed no runs.
  • Greinke gave up a total of two earned runs in his six complete games, and his record in those games was 5-1.
  • Greinke had nine no decisions, despite going at least five innings in every start this past year.
  • Greinke had two starts against the Angels this year. His combined line was 16 IP, 12 H, 2 Runs (only 1 earned), 2 BB, and 13 K. His record in those two games? 0-1.
Seriously, 2009 Zack Greinke is the epitome of no support. His offense never bailed him out in a rare subpar start, while he had many great starts go to waste. On a decent team, Greinke goes at least 20-4. Put it this way: Grienke was so good, even the BBWA could see it despite his 16-8 record. That takes something. This is a group that handed Bartolo Colon the Cy Young a few years ago because he had 20 wins, and basically nothing else.

So, congratulations to Zack Greinke. He deserved something for what had to be a frustrating season, made only more frustrating by how masterful his performances were.

Felix won't come cheap, but Cy Youngs are killer bargaining chips, fair or not. Barry Zito got his 7 years and $126 million largely on his reputation as a Cy Young award-winner. It's a chip that Hernandez usually would have after a season like 2009, but he does not. Bad break for him, good break for the Mariners.

Jack Wilson Signs

Jack WilsonNot that Jack Wilson knows me, or cares, but I feel like an apology is in order. I'm only getting around to talking about his contract now. It was definitely a big enough deal to talk about the moment it was agreed to.

In case you have not heard, the Mariners have themselves a starting shortstop. Jack Wilson agreed to a 2 year, $10 million deal, with a few incentives tied to plate appearances. This voids the $8.5 million option on his previous contract.

This is a perfect deal for everyone involved. The Mariners save about $3 million dollars on the 2010 payroll, while Jack Wilson gets some longer term security. It is clear that Wilson wanted to come back, and is happy to be back. It was also clear, particularly after the JJ Hardy trade, that nobody fit the M's shortstop hole better than Wilson.

Jack's defense is worth about $5 million by itself, which is good because his hitting doesn't add much at all. He will be lauded for "professional" at-bats, but that's a nice way of saying he tries his best to make his outs productive somehow. I will take Wilson's at-bats to what we saw out of Yuni the last couple years though, in a heartbeat.

In the end, it's always good to have players around that want to be in your organization. Jack Wilson is one of those guys, and he was signed for more than fair market value, and he fills a hole on the roster as well as anyone available.

There is also a bigger message in this deal. When Jack Z made the trade with Pittsburgh, he always referred to Jack Wilson as a long-term solution at shortstop. Many (including myself) weren't sold on that. I know I thought the shortstop market may change this offseason, and that Jack Z would evaluate those options. In the end though, Z stuck to his word, even after Wilson struggled through an injury-plagued couple months in Seattle. With deals like Wilson's, Jack Z is proving that he is a man of his word, and that the M's will stick with their players.

The Mariners are creating the kind of environment that players want to play in. That's not enough to lure the Mark Teixeira's of the world to the northwest (money still talks), but Jack Z's aggressive approach to roster composition, combined with the environment he and Don Wakamatsu are fostering in the organization, make Seattle a more attractive destination.

Junior Coming Back

Ken Griffey Jr.Today, the Mariners announced that they have re-signed Ken Griffey Jr. He inked a one-year deal worth a reported $2 million, with another $1 million that can be earned in incentives. It appears to be similar to the deal he signed last year.

There is lots to say and debate over this move, even though we are talking about a 40-year-old aging slugger signing for near the veteran minimum. That happens when the player in question is the greatest player in franchise history.

Even Jack Z's comment that it was "strictly a baseball decision" is quite cryptic. The Mariners, like any baseball team, make predominately baseball decisions. Real bold, Jack, real bold.

Re-signing Griffey is a statement that the 2010 Mariners are better off with him than without him. Since my off-season plan included re-signing Griffey, it's not too hard to figure out what I think of this move. It's excellent, and I'm especially glad it happened so fast.

Still, it's hard to say exactly what positive contributions the Mariners can expect from Griffey.

As far as on-field value goes, some point at Griffey's old age, steadily declining numbers, and virtually non-existent fielding, and argue he is living almost purely on his name value. Griffey was among the greatest of all-time in his prime, but he is now a decade removed from his glory days. The decline is bound to continue, to the point where he takes the spot of a more talented player.

Others point to the knee surgery Griffey just had, and say that is reason for hope. They also point to the 19 home runs he hit, as well as his place in the 600 home run club. Griffey still has a little power, even at 40 years old, and combines it with a tremendous eye. That's a weapon coming off the bench. There also is a good case to be made that Griffey had some bad luck last year. His BABIP was a paltry .222, well off his career mark of around .300. Those numbers suggest more of the balls he hit should have found holes.

Personally, I think Griffey will rebound slightly. The knee operation can't hurt. He won't have any worse luck than he had in 2009, as evidenced by his BABIP. However, the main reason his BABIP wasn't close to his career average is because he's nowhere close to the hitter he used to be. Griffey doesn't hit the ball as hard as he used to, plain and simple. You can tell that watching him play just as easily (if not more) as from any metric.

I expect Griffey's strikeouts and pop-ups to go up a little more in 2010, as he continues to get older, but the decline will likley be counteracted by better luck. So, an offensive performance slightly better than 2009 seems reasonable to me. As an everyday outfielder or DH, Griffey's .735 OPS from 2009 is tough to swallow. However, as a pinch-hitter, that's valuable, especially considering Griffey's prime weapons at this point are patience and power, the two weapons that comprise a threatening pinch hitter.

Plus, there is the whole "Griffey factor." At this point, Griffey's skillset isn't a ton different from the Phillies' Matt Stairs. However, if you are a pitcher, do you look at Matt Stairs the same way as Ken Griffey Jr? No way, no way at all. On some level, Griffey is still Griffey. He has just enough skills to remind everyone of what he used to be, and as long as he can do that, his past remains an intimidating factor in the back of a pitcher's head, and the opposing manager's mind. Whether it should be in the back of opponents' heads is debatable. That's not the issue at hand though. Griffey's past is in their heads, and so it has an impact that adds to Griffey's value.

Ultimately though, Griffey's situation fans the flames of another, bigger conversation ongoing in baseball: what's the value of clubhouse chemistry? Nobody denies that Griffey's presence was a huge positive in last year's clubhouse. There was much much more harmony, and many more smiles. Nobody denies that, and nobody denies that it was nice to see. However, does a more positive clubhouse produce more victories?

The cop-out answer is that, since no one has figured out how to quantify clubhouse chemistry, it is impossible to draw any firm conclusions. You could say the same about nutrition though. Nobody has concrete adjustments derived through statistical methods to account for the impact of a player's nutrition on their performance, yet it's fairly universally agreed upon that it is a good thing for players to eat more carrots than Red Vines.

That's a bit of an unfair comparison. Nutrition is a factor independent of specific personnel. Signing a "clubhouse guy," and giving him a roster spot over a potential up-and-coming prospect could result in a less talented team. That adds a little more urgency to place a quantifiable value on team chemistry.

The premise remains though - somehow, people have rationally deducted that better nutrition is worth pursuing in an effort to improve a team's performance. Similarly, just because there is no statistic to help predict clubhouse chemistry doesn't mean there is no way to rationally approach its value.

Consider 2009. Don Wakamatsu did some different things, especially by baseball standards. He talked a whole bunch about "belief systems," and feelings in general. Guys like Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Sweeney bought into it.

What if Griffey hadn't bought in? What if he had talked about how silly a belief system is, or how dumb it is? Guys like Rob Johnson and Michael Saunders certainly would have heard that, and likely become highly skeptical of anything Wakamatsu said. What young player wouldn't give Griffey's word credence, with all he has seen and accomplished? All of sudden, the players aren't very coachable. Progress halts. Promising prospects stop developing. Maybe players don't get worse, but they stop getting better. On a team with its best days still ahead, that's a problem. That's a big problem.

So, to say Ken Griffey Jr. doesn't have a place on a building team is wrong. He is important. The players would not have bought into Don Wakamatsu's system like they did without Griffey's presence, particularly as a fellow player.

The Mariners totally changed direction in 2009. It was a revolution by baseball standards, which is pretty rare. The franchise was in a free-fall at the end of 2008, and I would have been happy to just stop that last year. Instead, this team has some positive momentum. Griffey's clubhouse presence enabled such rapid progress, in conjunction with Wakamatsu and his coaching staff.

As far as I'm concerned, if a year was enough time to completely change direction, it's also enough time to unravel all the good that happened. 2009 was a season defined by positive changes. 2010 will be judged by how well the Mariners maintain their new ways, and continue to build on them.

I'm not saying the M's couldn't build on 2009 without Griffey. Wakamatsu wasn't going anywhere. However, taking away Griffey, one of the greatest enablers of the progress, would have been dangerous at this critical juncture in the process. It was an unnecessary risk to take, especially when Griffey wanted to come back at a reasonable price, and still provides value as a bench bat.

Plus, there is that whole iconic face-of-the-franchise/greatest player in team history/warm and fuzzy memories of the good ol' days thing. Not a bad throw-in with the deal.

It's good to have Junior back.

2009 Offseason Plan (v 1.1)

As the offseason unfolds, I will update the plan I would have if I were the Mariners GM. This would be version 1.0, but the JJ Hardy deal already messed with my grand scheme considerably. Hence, this is version 1.1. The list is in order from most to least important, though I woudn't work linearly. If a scenario pops up where I can only have one or the other though, the higher one prevails:

  1. Sign Felix Hernandez to a long-term extension. The time is NOW! My whole offseason would revolve around him. If a deal can't be worked out, it is time to explore trades involving him. The Bavasi bunch should have done this years ago, but here we are now, and he's going to get paid. The good news is that the M's only have about $40 million committed to the 2010 payroll. They have the flexibility to get this done. I'd prefer a four or five year deal, but I'd be willing to talk about six for Felix. Long-term contracts are risky, but I'm willing to gamble with Felix. He's still young, he does not have any documented arm problems, and he's way more than just a thrower. He's a fiery, competitive pitcher with a golden arm. I'll take my chances with that.
  2. Keep Jack Wilson. I thought a deal involving Brandon Morrow and JJ Hardy had some potential, but no longer. I'd still prefer to work out an extension with Wilson that would cut his 2010 salary, but with all the payroll room, it is possible to pick up the option. It's clear that he needs to come back at this point. There are no other options that fit the team well.
  3. Re-sign Adrian Beltre. The Mariners could use Matt Tuiasosopo or Jack Hannahan at third base, but neither are Adrian Beltre. He is still fairly young, still an unbelievable defender, and could be a bit of a bargain given the sub-par, injury-plagued year he just finished. Plus, word is that he was a clubhouse force.
  4. Re-sign Russell Branyan. Russell the muscle won't be the same bargain he was last year, but he will still be worth the money. However, I'd like to bring him back as the DH if possible. That hinges more on some other priorities, namely the next one...
  5. Add a bat, likely a first baseman, and likely through a trade. When I look at the roster, I see two prime trade chips: Brandon Morrow and Jose Lopez. If Beltre is re-signed, Matt Tuiasosopo can take over at second base. I think he will be a better defender, and he may not be much worse of a hitter. Somebody is bound to be intrigued by Lopez's power at second base. As for Morrow, I wonder if he will ever be a consistent starter, but teams would surely be interested in an arm of his caliber. I don't have a specific trade in mind, but my thought is to move Russell Branyan to DH, and acquire a first baseman (Russell isn't an incredible defender). Sean White and Mike Carp could also be part of a trade to get a first baseman.
  6. Add a reliable starting pitcher through a trade. Whoever isn't dealt to get a bat is used to get a starter. He wouldn't be an amazing one, just a solid one. Maybe Carlos Silva can be that guy, but I'm not counting on it. The free agent pitching market is really thin, so I like the chances of bringing in the answer via a trade. I'd give Ben Sheets a look, but virtually nobody else in free agency. I think the most realistic idea is to use Morrow to get a bat, and then Lopez to get a starting pitcher.
  7. Re-sign Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Sweeney. I think that clubhouse benefits tremendously from one more year out of both of them. Sweeney and Branyan split time at DH, though I think Branyan would play close to every day by also serving as the backup first baseman. Griffey would be the primary left-handed bench bat. If both players are willing to accept those roles, they come back. Super sub Bill Hall gives the M's the ability to carry a couple guys who may never play the field.
  8. Offer Erik Bedard a one-year MLB deal...as a reliever. The M's could use a lefty in the bullpen. Why not take a chance with Bedard? His stuff should translate really well into that role. The change should alleviate the injury concerns too. I have no idea what Bedard would think of this idea, but if the best he can get out of other clubs are spring training invitations, he would have to consider this deal. I've seen speculation that the Red Sox may take a chance on him though, like they did with Brad Penny and John Smoltz. That would not surprise me, and I think any guaranteed MLB contract with a promise to start would trump this offer.
  9. Sign some veteran catchers to minor league deals. I would definitely go with Rob Johnson and Adam Moore as the catchers, but Kenji's departure leaves the overall depth a little thin. Someone with experience that's willing to play in Tacoma most of the season would be best. I'm sure there are several backstops out there that fit the bill. Keep one or two of them after they all compete in spring training.
The Mariners have limitless ways they could go this offseason, given all their financial flexibility, and improved organizational depth. They don't have amazing in-house options in many places, but in most places they at least have someone. Realistically, someone unproven is going to get a chance to play. My idea is that left field is Michael Saunders's to lose, and if he does, he gives it to Ryan Langerhans. Then, it's down to either Mike Carp or Matt Tuiasosopo getting a chance, and between those two I'd prefer Tui.

Still, outside help could (and should) come too. With so many options, I think prioritizing is as important as anything. There will always be lots of irons in the fire, and keeping organized amidst the chaos may be difficult. This front office is up to the challenge though.

Twins Acquire JJ Hardy

JJ HardyWe knew JJ Hardy was getting dealt this offseason. We also knew that the Twins could use a long-term answer at shortstop. Today, the Twins and Brewers announced a rare one-for-one swap today. Milwaukee sends SS JJ Hardy to Minnesota. The Twins send OF Carlos Gomez to the Brewers.

This is a tremendous deal for the Twins. Orlando Cabrera was a good stop-gap deadline pickup, but he is getting old. Hardy fits in with Minnesota's style of solid fundamentals. He plays a great defensive shortstop, and adds a little right-handed pop to the lineup. If he bounces back some at the plate (as he should), he will add some nice depth in the lineup behind Mauer, Morneau, Jason Kubel, and Michael Cuddyer. Carlos Gomez is not a huge loss to the Twins either, given the emergence of Denard Span. Gomez is young, and has lots of potential, but Hardy is a long-term solution at a position of much greater need for Minnesota.

As for the Brewers, I wonder a little what might have been. Hardy was Milwaukee's best trade chip, and has been for the past year. Additionally, their biggest holes were clearly in the starting rotation. Since Mike Cameron is a free agent, Carlos Gomez presumably takes his place in the starting lineup. He is one of the few guys who is actually a defensive upgrade over Cameron, but he is a far cry from Cameron at the plate (and I think always will be).

Carlos Gomez is a nice acquisition for the Brewers, and it wouldn't surprise me if he breaks out a bit at the plate in 2010. Between him and Alcides Escobar, Milwaukee may finally be able to shift Rickie Weeks down in the lineup, where his power and patience can be better used to drive in runs. Still, with such glaring holes in the rotation, and such a valuable trade chip as Hardy, I would not have pulled the trigger on this deal so fast. I would have wanted to see if other offers would have come in. I don't think this is a bad deal for Milwaukee, but it's not a slam dunk, and it would have taken a slam dunk for me to trade JJ Hardy a little over 24 hours into the offseason.

Red Sox Acquire Hermida

Jeremy HermidaThe trades keep coming in. Clearly, teams were talking during the World Series, but abided by MLB's postseason gag rule. The Marlins and Red Sox struck a deal, sending OF Jeremy Hermida to Boston in exchange for LHP Garrett Jones and LHP Jose Alvarez.

I am a long-time fan of Hermida, so I'm inclined to say this deal favors the Red Sox. Hermida was a shining star as he rose through the Marlins farm system, but is yet to blossom as a major-leaguer. Still just 25 years old, it's reasonable to think that Hermida still has some developing to do. Perhaps all his nagging injuries have stunted his growth as well.

In Jeremy Hermida, Boston got a sweet left-handed swing that I think has some power we are yet to see. Jeremy also has a good eye for the strike zone, but a better understanding of pitches he can't square up is the next step for him. Either that, or closing the holes in his swing. Still, Boston now has a legitimate replacement for Jason Bay, should he leave. Frankly, Hermida's defense is better, and he is younger and cheaper. Bay is a bad contract waiting to happen, and now Boston shouldn't feel so much pressure to cave in.

Hunter Jones, although only 25 years old, pretty much is what he is. He is somewhere between a AAA and AAAA bullpen lefty. It is nice to have southpaws, but he won't challenge guys like Dan Meyer and Renyel Pinto in the Marlins bullpen.

The real catch in this deal for Florida is Jose Alvarez. He is a bit undersized, but a left-hander who came on strong the second half of this year. He is only 20 years old, and is still at least a few years away from the majors. Looking at his numbers, I am not all that high on him. His ERA dropped thanks to a home run rate that plummeted. Alvarez doesn't miss too many bats, and while he is still quite raw, great pitchers tend to miss minor league bats more than Alvarez has (especially with his fly ball rate).

Theo Epstein says that the Red Sox bought low on Jeremy Hermida, and I'd agree with him. Frankly, the Tigers gave up a better package (Luke French and Mauricio Robles) for two months of Jarrod Washburn than Boston gave up for a couple years of Jeremy Hermida. I wouldn't trade Washburn for Hermida straight up, especially when their age and contracts are considered.

Florida must see something in Alvarez, and their scouting department gets it right pretty often. Still, even if Alvarez develops and Hermida does not develop any further, I think this is a nice deal for Boston.

White Sox Acquire Mark Teahen

Mark TeahenWe already have two trades this offseason. With the first one, Tamba Bay shipped Akinori Iwamura to the Pirates. The emergence of Ben Zobrist made Iwamura expendable, and the money-conscious Rays can use every penny they can get. It's not surprising Iwamura is gone. I am a little surprised that the Pirates picked him up, but he is a solid acquisition for them.

The second deal came today, when Mark Teahen was traded by the Royals to the White Sox. In exchange, Kansas City gets Chris Getz and Josh Fields.

This isn't the worst deal KC general manager Dayton Moore has made, but I have a hard time believing this was the best he could do. Teahen isn't amazing, but he has been a popular trade target for a few seasons. He has value. In return, the Royals got a young, backup middle infielder in Getz, and a powerful third baseman in Fields that is yet to produce at the major league level. This trade hinges on how good Fields is.

What I question is how the Royals didn't get an arm in this trade. They need help all over the diamond, but their bullpen was especially horrific. If the White Sox offered me Fields and Getz, I take Getz out of the deal (after all, KC already has a better second baseman, Alberto Callaspo) and replace Getz with a bullpen arm. Not Bobby Jenks, but someone decent. Kansas City just traded their best trade chip (unless they unload Zack Grienke for a king's fortune), and didn't address their greatest weakness.

On the other hand, this is a nice deal for the White Sox. Presumably, Teahen replaces Jermaine Dye (now a free agent) in the outfield. He is not the hitter Dye is, but he is a better defender. Plus, Teahen is significantly younger and cheaper. Moreover, getting him only cost Fields (who had no future in the organization anyway), and Chris Getz, who I have never seen as much more than a solid bench player, even though he was Chicago's starting second baseman last year. Technically, Chicago traded its starting second baseman, but they should have been looking for an upgrade. Essentially, they turned spare pieces into a decent everyday player.

There are a couple reasons I wrote so much about this trade. First of all, it's nice to have transactions to talk about again. Second, M's second baseman Jose Lopez has an offensive game that fits US Cellular Field well. His dead-pull fly ball style will play much better in US Cellular's fairly cozy left field, whereas it's an awful fit for Safeco's spacious left field. I think Lopez is a logical guy for the M's to trade for many reasons, and the White Sox are an even more logical fit with this Teahen trade. Let the hot stove league begin...

UPDATE (11/6/09): White Sox GM Kenny Williams says that Mark Teahen is the starting third baseman, and Gordon Beckham will move to second base. Perhaps Jermaine Dye is not out of Chicago's plans yet. Regardless, this makes good sense too. In fact, it's usually easier to find outfielders than infielders. It would not surprise me if Beckham asserts himself as one of the better second baseman in baseball next year.

Mariners Claim Yusmeiro Petit

The offseason is here! I'll provide a more in-depth look at it over the weekend, but the Mariners have already been active. Yesterday, they claimed Yusmeiro Petit off waivers from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Petit is a starter, with a mostly unspectacular career to this point. However, he had some success in the minor leagues, and it's reasonable to think Safeco field will help out his home run rate. He adds to the mix of options at the back end of the rotation, and in long relief. Personally, I've irrationally liked him for several years. Maybe it's the name (I think it's just cool), so I'm happy to see the M's give him a chance.

Also, in the midst of the playoffs, the Mariners booted five players off the 40-man roster: 1B/OF Bryan LaHair, LHP Cesar Jimenez, LHP Justin Thomas, RHP Randy Messenger, and RHP Marwin Vega. All but Vega have seen time with the Mariners at some point the past few seasons. Thomas was claimed by the Pittsburgh Pirates, so he is gone. Likely, others from this list will leave the organization too, but they all could come back on minor league deals. Just because they aren't on the 40-man roster does not mean that they are gone for good, but it does say that they aren't seen as integral pieces moving forward.

2009 World Series Odds

Can the Phillies repeat as champions, or will the Yankees end their draught (by their terms)? With how much people are tired of the Yankees winning, it's hard to believe they have not won a championship since 2000. Below are the odds in the series, based on my projected wins formula. The odds will be updated after each game. I also provide my prediction, which will not change:

2009 World Series - Phillies vs. Yankees

Yankees win series 4-2

Phillies in 4 games: 0%
Phillies in 5 games: 0%
Phillies in 6 games: 0%
Phillies in 7 games: 0%

Yankees in 4 games: 0%
Yankees in 5 games: 0%
Yankees in 6 games: 100%
Yankees in 7 games: 0%

Total odds of winning series: Phillies - 0%, Yankees - 100%

People should be more excited about this series. It doesn't have the sizzling side-plot of Joe Torre returning to the Bronx, or the geographic battle that Dodgers-Angels would have been. However, this series features the defending champions going against the most successful franchise in MLB history. Will this series be remembered as a return to glory for the Yankees, or elevate the Phillies into the team of the decade discussion? Either could happen.

I've been picking against the Phillies this whole postseason, while picking the Yankees the entire way. I won't switch anything up in the World Series. I'll take the Yankees in seven games. On paper, the Phillies are overmatched. Analysts like to pick on the Yankees bullpen as of late, but their issues are nothing compared to Philadelphia's. Both teams feature strong offenses, and good rotations. They are similar teams on paper, with the exception of the bullpens. Mariano Rivera is the difference in this series.

Still, Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson have the kind of stuff to get hot for a stretch and hide all the problems that plagued the Phillies 'pen throughout the season. They have risen to the occasion so far. Plus, even if the Phillies are bit overmatched in the series, they have more than proven that they are fighters. The Yankees will have to rip the trophy out of Philadelphia's hands. Neither of these teams is ever out of a game with their potent offenses, and they both have never-say-die attitudes. That could make for several back-and-forth games...which brings me back to the bullpens, where one team has Mariano Rivera, and the other team hopes to find a hot hand.

It's rare to see the defending champion get to defend its title in the World Series, so enjoy this series for what it is. The defending champs are the clear underdog, but they are still the defending champs. Don't be surprised if a good series emerges, especially as some people lament the match-ups that might have been.