Why Relievers Are Cheap

I needed something to do before the USA-Canada hockey game today. Here is a little comparison between a couple relievers. Who would you rather have?

2008-2009 totals
Reliever A: 75 relief appearances, 77.1 IP, 69 hits, 13 HR, 42 BB, 85 K, 4.42 ERA
Reliever B: 87 relief appearances, 120.1 IP, 118 hits, 10 HR, 44 BB, 101 K, 3.29 ERA

2010 CHONE projection
Reliever A: 51 relief appearances, 62 IP, 56 hits, 9 HR, 28 BB, 64 K, 4.21 ERA
Reliever B: 53 relief appearances, 58 IP, 59 hits, 7 HR, 23 BB, 47 K, 4.50 ERA

Both relievers are right-handers. Reliever A is listed at 6'3", 165 pounds, and 28 years old. Reliever B is listed at 6'2", 206 pounds, and 36 years old. Also, since league differences matter, it's worth noting that Reliever A has spent the past two seasons in the AL, while Reliever B has been in the NL.

Even with the limited numbers I've presented here, it is pretty clear that Reliever A is younger, and has the better arm. However, he doesn't have great control, and that likely is part of the reason he has given up more then his fair share of long balls.

Reliever A is Edwar Ramirez, who got designated for assignment today to make room on the Yankees roster for Reliever B, Chan Ho Park. We last saw Park in the back end of the Phillies bullpen, pitching against the Yankees in the World Series. He was a contributing piece to a very good ballclub, so some were surprised there was minimal interest in his services.

I think this comparison shows why. Park has been significantly more effective than Ramirez the past couple years, but it is likely that a good deal of the difference is luck. At least the CHONE projection thinks so, since it regressed both pitchers' home run rates (Ramirez's down and Park's up) and all of a sudden they didn't look so different. Throw in the limited innings that relievers work, and it's even more debatable who will perform better this year. That's somewhere between interesting and remarkable, considering one of these guys has bounced between AAA and the majors and is yet to establish himself, while the other is a grizzled veteran that has morphed into a setup guy on winning ballclubs.

None of this is meant to criticize the move made by the Yankees (though of course I hope it fails spectacularly, as a life-long Yankee hater). It is simply meant to point out why bullpens can, and always should, be built cheaply.

HGH Testing No Closer

While most of the sports world has been gazing at Vancouver, a piece of news has travelled across the Atlantic. The first athlete ever tested positive for HGH. You can read a few more details here (along with a pretty slanted view that it puts pressure on baseball). Notably, the player was caught through a blood test.

News of the test has put pressure on pro sports leagues, particularly the NFL and MLB, to respond. However, drug testing is complicated stuff. It must be collectively bargained, meaning the owners and players must agree on how it will be done. Since the owners aren't the ones being tested, and their reputations aren't on the line, it's never them who will stand in the way of agreements. So, it is particularly important to pay attention to how player unions respond.

Wednesday night, the MLBPA released this statement regarding the positive HGH test. This transcript is directly from a post by Maury Brown at The Biz of Baseball:
Human growth hormone is banned under our Joint Drug Program. Discipline has been imposed against players who have been found to have used HGH. We do not test currently for HGH, because no scientifically validated urine test exists. Our program calls for immediate and automatic implementation of urine testing for HGH once a scientifically validated test is available.
The Joint Program, negotiated several times with the Commissioner's Office, does not call for blood testing of players. Blood testing raises serious issues not associated with urine testing. Nonetheless, the Association has previously said that if a scientifically validated blood test for HGH was available, we would consider it.
This week, a British rugby player was suspended as a result of a reported positive blood test for HGH. This development warrants investigation and scrutiny; we already haveconferred with our experts on this matter, and with the Commissioner's Office, and we immediately began gathering additional information. However, a report of a single uncontested positive does not scientifically validate a drug test. As press reports have suggested, there remains substantial debate in the testing community about the scientific validity of blood testing for HGH. And, as we understand it, even those who vouch for the scientific validity of this test acknowledge that it can detect use only 18-36 hours prior to collection.
Putting these important issues aside, inherent in blood testing of athletes are concerns of health, safety, fairness and competition not associated with urine testing. We have conferred initially with the Commissioner's Office about this reported positive test, as we do regarding any development in this area. We look forward to continuing to jointly explore all questions associated with this testing -- its scientific validity, its effectiveness in deterring use, its availability and the significant complications associated with blood testing, among others.
The Association agrees with the Commissioner's Office that HGH use in baseball is not to be tolerated. We intend to act without delay to ascertain whether our Program can be improved as it relates to HGH. In so doing, however, we will not compromise the commitment to fairness on which our Program always has been premised.
It is easy to make out players to be villains when it comes to drug testing, especially when they resist it. The first conclusion anyone jumps to is that they are hiding something. The reality is that many players probably do have something to hide. It would be naive, and flat-out stupid, to think nobody uses HGH, especially in the wake of the steroids scandal.

I don't know enough about players in other sports, but at least in baseball they are not going to hold back proper HGH testing. The reason I pasted the entire MLBPA statement into this post, instead of just linking to it, is because of how important the reaction is. The union brings up some highly valid points about blood testing.

I'll admit, I'm a wuss, and I've never had my blood drawn. However, I've seen plenty of blood drives, and I know plenty of friends who have participated. Drawing blood is a draining process (literally). Some people faint, others get a little sick, and most everyone at least gets a little drowsy. Granted, donating blood and getting a little drawn are different, but the concerns raised by the MLBPA in this statement are similar. Blood testing would leave some players weak in the knees, which isn't great for them, or their team, as they try to stand up to a 95-mph fastball. There are legitimate safety concerns and competitive issues inherent to blood testing that are not problems with urine testing.

Furthermore, consider what baseball players have already agreed to. As the statement points out, a scientifically-approved urine test will be implemented immediately. They didn't even mention that all that was agreed to outside of normal negotiations. In other words, both sides came to the bargaining table and actually amended the CBA, which just doesn't happen in American pro sports (especially baseball, where negotiations have historically been awful).

I don't mean to make baseball players out to be patron saints here. Their probable widespread use of HGH is the only reason that testing is an issue in the first place. However, if/when the union resists and rejects blood testing, I hope their side of the story is told. They have taken unprecedented steps (along with the owners) to implement an HGH policy, and the concerns they have raised are valid as well.

The issue here is blood testing, not HGH testing, but it's way too easy to perceive the situation the other way around. In fact, it likely will be perceived the other way around in the mainstream media, because the only reason it is a story is thanks to HGH.

The MLBPA did an excellent job explaining their position with the statement they released. If it's any indication of how Michael Weiner will approach CBA negotiations, I'm optimistic on a good deal being reached. At the very least, he and his union have the right things in mind when it comes to HGH testing.

Spring Training Is Awesome

Jose Lopez - AT THIRD BASE!
I love spring training, I really do. I wish it was maybe a week shorter, but not much shorter. If the season started out with no preparation, I may have a seizure from all the excitement, kind of like those crazy shows with all the super fast flashing lights. Thanks to spring training, I have pitchers and catchers reporting, then a week later everyone else reporting, and then the first spring training game, and a couple rounds of cuts...it's much healthier to spread the excitement enough to not hurt myself.

Plus, spring training by itself is really fun, especially with this new Mariners regime. Jack Hannahan and Ryan Garko both reported with the catchers. They've been catching bullpen sessions, meaning the M's will probably break camp with four players capable of going behind the plate and not making a fool of themselves. I especially love that Hannahan is doing bullpen sessions while there is still a plan to work him in at shortstop a bunch more.

There are the random moments that only happen in the spring too, like when 19-year-old first-rounder Steven Baron caught Felix Hernandez's bullpen session last week. He went from high school to King Felix. That wouldn't quite make my career, but those ten minutes would have made the whole trip to Peoria worth it for me.

On the first full day of workouts, the M's took the field with Jose Lopez at third base, and Chone Figgins at second. It caused a bit of a stir, considering all conventional logic would put Lopez at second and Figgins at third. There has been so much written already analyzing the switch (the post linked to has more links too),  so I won't go over it at all, other than to say it makes spring training even more awesome.

If you are keeping track at home, that's a starting second baseman practicing at third, a starting third baseman practicing at second, the backup third baseman catching bullpen sessions with plans to practice at shortstop, a regular first baseman getting back behind the plate for the first time since the minors, and a guy who just graduated from high school catching the Cy Young runner-up.

This is why I love spring training. You'll see things you won't see during the season. Usually that means different prospects taking the field for a few innings, and one of them doing something that speaks to their potential. I still remember a few years back, when I went down to San Francisco to watch a Mariners-Giants exhibition game. A 20-year-old Michael Saunders got an at-bat, and roped a pitch just foul down the right field line, that, after a bounce, splashed down in McCovey Cove. I'm still looking for another foul ball that makes me drool quite like that one.

There is also room to experiment in spring training with more established players though, and I wish more teams did it. This is the only time players will get to play in real, live games that don't matter. There is ample room for things to fail spectacularly without repercussions. Pitchers should try new pitches, hitters new stances, fielders new positions. Statistically speaking, the sample sizes are too small to get any meaningful data anyway. It's practice and experience with no real pressure to perform, and the naked eye is the only way to possibly glean meaningful insights.

I remember when Randy Johnson worked on a different fastball in spring training during his time with the Diamondbacks. His spring numbers were horrific, and some people wondered if it would carry into the season. It did, but not in the way people implied. Johnson took a beating in the spring, but in the process learned a new pitch. He went out and got a Cy Young with his new weapon.

Most players (and teams) don't take a very experimental approach in spring training. Mixing up the batting order is about as far as many go. Not the Mariners though, and it's not surprising coming from this organization. What other team would take their top prospect and move him from center field to second base just to do it?

Spring training's meaningless games will eventually get to me, and I'll want the regular season to get here. I'm not even close to that point yet though. Spring training has a charm special to itself, and following the Mariners, it's going to be even more charming. They are treating it almost like little league, and I love it.

You know, while the M's are at it, they should let Ichiro pitch! They should take that old-school Griffey cloning ad and make it more of a reality too! Why not let King Felix work on his stroke a little more as well? We know he has some pop. For all we know, he could provide some right-handed thunder off the bench!

Okay, if there was any doubt that Don Wakamatsu runs a better spring training than I would, it should be gone now. There are experiments more likely to yield results than others, and thankfully he has an eye for those. I love the approach though. What's the harm in trying something different? It can only help the team, and it definitely makes spring training that much more lovable.

Lincecum, Giants Strike a Deal

The Giants and star pitcher Tim Lincecum have agreed to a 2 year, $23 million deal. Reports say negotiating went down to the absolute final seconds. Apparently, the deal was struck in front of the doors of their impending arbitration hearing. Since they avoided the most interesting arbitration case of all-time, I'm glad the contract negotiations stayed dramatic down to the final seconds.

The deal is interesting. I didn't see one being struck, but kudos to whoever struck the three-year idea and went in a totally different direction. Lincecum will earn $8 million in 2010, and $13 million in 2011, with $1 million bonuses each year. Essentially, instead of arguing over what Lincecum is worth, the Giants will pay what they offered him this year, and then what Tim wanted (just a year later), along with a couple cherries on top (the bonuses). Considering this deal had to come together within the past 12 hours, I doubt it's much more complicated than that.

My initial reaction was disbelief. I didn't like this deal for Lincecum. I would have taken my chances in arbitration. Upon further review though, the deal is not a clear-cut win or loss for either side.

With the way arbitration works, players are pretty much guaranteed raises each successive year they hit it. The guiding principle behind arbitration is that it transitions players from the league minimum to their open market value.

So, if Lincecum had won his arbitration case today, he would have earned $13 million this year, and likely $14-15 million next year. Rumors are that he countered with 2 years, $27 million before agreeing to this deal, which would be right in line with what he probably would have earned the next 2 years with an arbitration victory. Clearly, for the Giants to agree to a deal, it would have to be for less than that.

If the Giants had won arbitration, Lincecum would have earned $8 million this year, and probably around $10 million the next year. They reportedly first offered 2 years, $21 million, so they finally were the side to flinch. Lincecum would not have earned that much with a Giants arbitration victory.

In essence, if the Giants had won arbitration, Lincecum would have got around $18 million the next 2 years, and if Lincecum had won he would have got around $28 million. Interestingly enough, $23 million is right in the middle of those two figures.

The structure of the deal is important too. At the end of this contract, Lincecum will still have two arbitration years left. At that point, it would still be surprising if he didn't get salary raises in the process, so it's significant that the second year of the deal is for $13 million. That is only a few million dollars off what he probably would have earned in 2011 if he had won arbitration this year, so this contract did not limit Lincecum's longer term earning potential in arbitration all that much.

Overall, Tim Lincecum obviously would have earned more money if he had gone to arbitration and won. However, he only gave up about a potential $5 million over the next few years, and maybe around $5 million more in his final two years of arbitration, for the security that the Giants would not win arbitration, which would have likely resulted in $20-25 million less over the next four years. From this perspective, the deal ultimately favors Tim Lincecum slightly.

I liked Lincecum's chances to win his arbitration case though. I'm not sure this deal would have been enough for me to not take my chances. It definitely would not have been enough without the $1 million bonuses each year. I'm guessing those were added as the two sides were right in front of the doors to their hearing.

Money isn't everything though. With how relatively reasonable Lincecum's offers were all along, I'm not sure he was ever that interested in milking arbitration for all it was worth. The completely new deal offered by the Giants in the final hours signals some urgency on their side too. Maybe when both sides saw those doors, they looked at each other and tacitly agreed that they weren't going in, no matter what.

Lincecum Update - The Plot Thickens

The Tim Lincecum situation continues to look more and more interesting, at least if you find the business of baseball interesting.

(That's your cue to stop reading if you aren't interested in the dollars and cents behind the game)

This morning, a report surfaced that the Giants have made a 3-year offer to Tiny Tim, worth a total of $37 million. If the report is true, Lincecum would earn $9.5 million in 2010, $10 million in 2011, and then $12.5 in 2012. Interestingly, Lincecum would still have one more arbitration year remaining after the deal is over, if he were to sign it.

Teams routinely negotiate with players up to arbitration hearings, so I would be more shocked if the Giants and Lincecum were not talking. However, I think that San Francisco would want to buy out all of Tim's arbitration years. Also, I think that Lincecum would pursue deals similar in structure to the ones Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander signed. That makes a potential deal which would make sense for both sides (in my eyes at least) 4-5 years in length.

The report from this morning also says that Lincecum offered a counterproposal worth more than $40 million total. That shouldn't be surprising. Players just about automatically earn raises on arbitration, which is partly why this first hearing is so critical. Lincecum's hearing will slot him on a pay schedule that escalates from $8 million, or from $13 million. Over the duration of his arbitration years, that's likely a total of $20-25 million on the table. Therefore, if he wins his arbitration case (and as I wrote yesterday, I like his chances), he is just about guaranteed to earn around $45 million the next three years in arbitration. If Tim likes his chances of winning his arbitration case, he shouldn't settle for much less.

I have struggled to understand why the Giants seem so unwilling to give money to Tiny Tim. They have low-balled him from the start, and haven't budged that much.

Buster Olney might have finally supplied an answer in a few tweets this morning. He heard rumors that as few as one member from the Giants front office will attend the looming arbitration hearing. The "heavy lifting," as Olney put it, would come from Major League Baseball.

In other words, the owners don't want Tim Lincecum to get paid.

I don't get why they care so much. Let's say that Lincecum wins. He gets $13 million, and has set the precedent for what Super Twos with two Cy Young awards will get in arbitration. Sure, it's a ton of money, but how many back-to-back Cy Young award-winners are going to hit arbitration? Lincecum is the first ever, and this process has been around for about 30 years.

I'm not going to soften up on the Giants too much, but for different reasons now. If today's reports are true, it looks like they are pawns in a bigger game about limiting arbitration salaries. Who knows if the Giants really wanted to offer Lincecum $8 million. There is obviously pressure to keep the Lincecum deal rather moderate from the rest of the owners. I guess baseball's anti-trust exemption makes this kind of action legal.

Still, I think a team's obligations to its on-field product and fans comes before obligations to other owners, so I would like to see the Giants (or any team) negotiate in good faith with their players. It doesn't seem like that's going on right now.

I question even more why Major League Baseball cares so much about the Lincecum arbitration case though. Indeed, their are implications that come with such a massive amount of money at stake. However, this case is so exceptional. Are the Corey Harts of the world really going to compare themselves to Tim Lincecum in future arbitration hearings? Yes, a precedent will be set, but it might not even be a once-in-a-generation type of precedent. This sort of scenario is extremely rare.

On top of that, Major League baseball signed an odd agreement with the Florida Marlins a couple months ago, essentially forcing the franchise to spend more money. I wrote a post about it, and didn't care for the agreement all that much. Regardless of how I feel though, it's clear the intent was to make low-budget teams spend some more money on players. So, it seems a little odd that Major League Baseball would turn around a few months later and put a concerted effort into limiting a player's salary.

The timing is even more curious considering that the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in a couple years. That means negotiations are going to start up in earnest pretty soon, and you can bet the MLBPA will notice if the owners do all the arguing for the Giants in the Tim Lincecum arbitration case. Maybe that won't bother MLBPA head Michael Weiner all that much.

What if it does though?

I know it's all a "what if" game, but it all gets back to the point I made in my post yesterday. This is not a risk worth taking. Tim Lincecum, given his age and accomplishments, isn't asking for the world. He is being reasonable, especially by professional athlete standards.

If the Giants are getting pushed around by other owners, they should man up and get something done anyway.

On a bigger level though, the owners are taking a bad risk with this case. Is Lincecum's arbitration hearing worth risking bargaining relations over as CBA discussions start up? Doesn't it look a little bit like collusion when the owners argue why Tim Lincecum shouldn't get the money he wants, and doesn't the MLBPA have a long history of yelling about collusion? Really, stirring up those kind of long-standing ill feelings heading into CBA negotiations is worth limiting the precedent set in a once-in-a-lifetime kind of arbitration case?

Apparently it is worth it. I think the owners should hit Tiny Tim up for a joint, chill out for a few hours, and reassess what they are about to do.

Really Dumb Risk

Tim Lincecum
Of course it was great news when the Mariners locked Felix Hernandez up for 5 years, at a surprisingly "low" total of $78 million. The best part of the deal is that King Felix is Mariners property for a long time. Both sides gained security.

However, the deal also kept both sides from going to arbitration, and we are about to find out how much better that makes everything. That's because the most interesting arbitration case of all-time is about to go down: The San Francisco Giants vs. Tim Lincecum.

At this point, Lincecum is the Giants' version of King Felix (with apologies to Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, both great young pitchers in their own right). However, San Fran's version of the King has won back-to-back Cy Youngs. Nobody so decorated has hit arbitration, mostly because players (by the design of the system) hit it in their second or third full pro season. That's not much time to accumulate such honors, and usually it takes a little time for even elite players to become elite as well.

That's all to say that nobody is really comparable to Tim Lincecum when it comes to previous arbitration cases. The closest is the Ryan Howard 2008 hearing. Howard, 28 years old at the time, was the NL MVP in 2006, and hitting arbitration for the first time. He won his case in what was considered a landmark decision, and awarded a $10 million salary.

Lincecum has asked for $13 million, while the Giants have countered with $8 million. There is no middle ground in arbitration. The arbitrator picks a side, so it's up to Tiny Tim to convince the arbitrator that he's worth making another landmark decision over.

However, the Giants have practically paved the way to victory for Lincecum. That's saying something considering clubs historically tend to win arbitration cases (for a much more detailed look at arbitration history, check out this article at Hardball Times).

Let's stick with the comparison to Ryan Howard. Who is worth more money: a 28-year-old first baseman a season removed from an MVP award, or a 25-year-old pitcher that is the reigning Cy Young champ twice over? Even if the Cy Young is considered less of an award than the MVP, we are talking about two versus one, in succession no less, and entering arbitration as the reigning award-winner. All of those factors should be worth something.

On top of that, $10 million in 2008 is not the same as $10 million in 2010. According to historical salary data, The average salary of an MLB player was $2,944,556 at the end of the 2007 season, the most recently one completed before Howard's arbitration case. The average salary in 2009 was $3,240,000. Using these numbers as inflation statistics, awarding $10 million based on 2007 salaries would be like awarding $11,003,356.70 based on 2009 salaries. In other words, a player equivalent to the 2008 Ryan Howard would probably earn $11 million in arbitration this year.

Therefore, it is up to Tim Lincecum to argue why he is worth $2 million more than 2008 Ryan Howard, and up to the Giants to convince the arbitrator why he is worth $3 million less than that. Again, there is no middle ground. One side will win.

Even if an arbitrator decides that Lincecum is asking for too much money, how in the world are the Giants going to make a case that he is worth only $8 million? What are they going to say in that room, with Lincecum there to hear every word, that backs up their stance?

If I were the Giants, especially after seeing the deals Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander got this offseason, I would have given him $13 million without much thought, if that's what negotiating came down to. However, realistically, Lincecum is probably willing to settle for a little less. $11-12 million seems highly doable. Why are the Giants risking what looks like an ugly arbitration case waiting to happen, especially with the relatively reasonable demands made by Lincecum?

This could have been Felix, and probably would have been if Bill Bavasi was still around. He never seemed that interested in signing Felix to a long-term deal. I'm glad it's not my favorite team about to take an unnecessary risk with a young star.

Erik Bedard, The Sequel

Erik Bedard
He's back, and this time he didn't cost the farm, and he isn't expected to be an ace. Erik Bedard is returning, to the tune of $1.5 million guaranteed with boatloads of incentives that could net him up to $8.5 million when it is all said and done.

The deal itself is another good one. Yes, Bedard has some serious injury concerns. However, is he that much worse than Ben Sheets, who got $10 million guaranteed from the A's? Here are their cumulative numbers from the last three seasons, side-by-side:

Erik Bedard     Ben Sheets
Game Started     5855
Innings346339.2
Hits276319
Walks12874
Strikeouts383264
Home Runs3634
WHIP1.171.16
ERA3.203.40

How exactly did one of these guys get $10 million guaranteed, while the other got only $1.5 million (plus lots of incentives)?

Also, if you care about the difference in leagues (and you should), Sheets compiled his numbers in the National League, which has clearly been weaker for many years now. Furthermore, Sheets missed ALL of last year, while Bedard missed significant parts of the last two years. Maybe that points to more chronic injury concerns for Erik, but at the same time, I think it makes him less of an enigma heading into this season.

Given that Bedard is guaranteed to miss at least a few months, I can see how Sheets would net more guaranteed money. The gap between the contracts is too extreme though.

Anyway, that's all to say that this is a good deal for the Mariners, based on the market set this off-season. However, what does this deal do for the Mariners on the field?

The short answer is nothing, and as the season rolls along, hopefully something. Bedard probably comes back sometime in June, and he will be rusty. It is one thing to get back on the field, and another to regain form. This could especially be the case with Bedard, considering his big pitch is a devastating curve ball. The thing has so much movement it was hard for him to control even when he was at his best, as evidenced by all the walks. Even if Bedard retains his curve's devastating movement after arm surgery, he will have to rediscover his feel for it. That likely translates to lots of walks, which means many precarious (and brief) outings.

However, the upside is inescapable. What if Bedard rounds back into form after a couple months back on the mound? He should get sharper as the season progresses. The M's could roll out three pitchers capable of completely shutting down teams on a routine basis. In a playoff series, that would be terrifying for an opponent.

The terms of the deal are interesting too. Although the M's budget is unknown, it seems unlikely that they had $8.5 million left to spend. I seriously doubt that Bedard earns all the incentives, even though I have no idea what it takes for them to kick in. Still, ownership had to sign off on the deal, which means they are willing to potentially pay that much if everything goes a certain way. I'd think part of the reason is because, realistically, if Erik reaches his incentives, the M's have three aces, and that is probably enough to make the playoffs.

Still, it's worth noting what this deal signals about what we don't know. I think part of the reason Jack Z adamantly refutes budget rumors is because it is probably fluid. He will lobby for more money if a deal warrants it, and I think he did to make the Bedard deal happen. Ownership seems to be open to Z's persuasion too, and trusts him enough to go potentially beyond budget if it means winning big.

What a difference a couple years makes. Erik Bedard came to the Mariners the anointed ace, with all the pressure to be the missing piece. He came to Seattle a little surly, very stand-offish, and with a promise to test free agency when he got the chance. With how things went, it was so easy to hate him.

Now, Bedard comes back on an incentive-laden deal. He said Seattle was his top choice, and he sees himself as starter 3A once healthy. This is not the same pitcher, or situation, but ironically enough, the stage is set for him to be the missing piece the M's thought they were getting in the first place.

Sequels tend to be disappointments, but here's hoping that this one is different. There are good reasons to think it will be too.

Keep Them Coming

Several people, such as the venerable Rob Neyer in this post, are scratching their heads over the M's recent additions. Ryan Garko seemed to especially spark questions. The two main questions seem to be:

  1. Where is the playing time?
  2. Where is the roster space?

As good as the questions being asked are, those answers will come in spring training. They don't matter right now. Jack Zduriencik's goal is to acquire talent. The team designated RHP Gaby Hernandez for assignment to make room for Garko. Is Garko a more talented player, and more likely to contribute, than Hernandez? Absolutely, and that upgrade essentially cost $150,000...unless Garko racks up plate appearances, and in that case his use will justify giving him more money.

This is an odd free agent market. MLB Trade Rumors over the weekend noted that 37 former all-stars were still available in free agency (that number has shrunk some with signings this week). Still, the point is that there is a surprising amount of proven talent available only a few weeks before pitchers and catcher report.

Putting talent on the field is always a good thing. Giving up talent is a bad thing. If the Mariners had cut loose Dustin Ackley to make room for Garko then this would be a bad move. If they had hamstrung their roster and finances by signing Garko for multiple years and millions of dollars, this could be a bad move. The same goes for Eric Byrnes.

That is not what the Mariners are doing though. They know who the core of this roster is, and it won't get touched. Most of the roster is adjustable, and if a better piece can be added to the adjustable parts, then the move is worth it.

Ryan Garko isn't part of the core. Ditto for Eric Byrnes. As long as they don't cost a piece of the core, or prohibit the Mariners from keeping the core, the question is if they are a better supporting piece than what the team cut loose. I like Byrnes more than I like Tommy Everidge, and I like Garko more than I like Gaby Hernandez. The supporting cast is stronger now than it was at the start of the week. That's a good thing.

The reality is that the Mariners are about out of roster spots for free agents. Well, technically they are completely out of options, but there is a handful of players I am willing to cut loose on the roster if someone better is added on a one-year deal (in other words, added to the supporting cast). So, if Johnny Damon or Orlando Hudson comes knocking on the door, I would invite them in and we would chat. Their talent merits that much, and if they want to join the team on team-friendly terms, I'd strongly consider them.

Ryan Garko Added To The Mix

This morning, the Mariners signed 1B/"OF" Ryan Garko to a one-year deal. Garko will earn $550,000 guaranteed, and could earn up to $1,075,000 through bonuses based on plate appearances.

In Garko, the M's are getting an uninspiring defender with a passable bat. The best qualities he brings is that he is right-handed, and for his career he has hit lefties much better than righties (.882 OPS against lefties compared to .749 against righties over the last three years combined). He is a right-handed bat with a little power, but that's about all he is.

It is hard to say exactly where Garko fits in. It seems that platooning him at DH with Griffey would be best (Griffey the past three years has a .715 OPS versus lefties, and .837 OPS against righties). That would leave Eric Byrnes, Milton Bradley, and Ryan Langerhans vying for two spots in the outfield. Bradley certainly has one of them.

This move is difficult to figure out because the Mariners might not know what's going to happen as of yet either. It may be up to who performs best in spring training. All of them could be kept if the team goes with an 11-man pitching staff too.

Plus, there are injuries to think about too. There is probably playing time for everyone throughout the season, as long as someone can go down to AAA from time to time.

The Mariners have one more option than they did at the start of the morning, and I'd pay $550,000 for that.