The Hips Might Lie

Rob Johnson
Rob Johnson had hip surgeries in the offseason. We know that, and we know they are the reason he has been held back in spring training. However, despite Johnson's limitations, we have heard many positives about him coming out of spring training. Particularly, Wak has said Johnson's swing looks much freer, and he is able to drive the ball much better. He attributes the changes to Rob's healthy hips.

Biomechanically (I hope that is a word), what Wak is claiming makes sense. A good swing is like a whip. It starts from the core, and a batter's arms/hands twist around their pivoting core before they get involved in the swing. Fundamental to pivoting the core is twisting the hips. Limited range of motion in the hips would limit the twisting action that begins a swing, which should in turn limit bat speed and range of motion. Consequently, bad hips could keep a player from turning on pitches, and limit their power in general.

If Rob Johnson takes a step forward offensively this year, many people will probably point to his healthy hips. I don't want to say they don't make a difference. However, I'm not going to be as quick to credit them for any offensive progress.

Johnson spent the better part of three years in succession in AAA. His wOBA in those three years climbed dramatically - from .258, to .311, to .351. Those numbers were accumulated in 359, 465, and 459 plate appearances, respectively, so not terribly limited sample sizes. Clearly, Rob Johnson made significant progress as a hitter in AAA, without any hip surgeries.

Johnson's wOBA with the M's last year was .274, and none of the major projection systems have him topping .300 this year. If he makes a leap forward like he did in the minors, he will easily cross that threshold, and people will probably be surprised by his sudden improvement. Reasons for his sudden improvement will be sought, and undoubtedly, his hips will become the predominant explanation.

If/when Rob Johnson hits better in 2010 than he did in 2009, I don't think there is a way to discern what portion of it is natural progress, and what can be attributed to his surgeries. I find it interesting that he was clearly a better hitter in the second half of last season, when intuitively he should have gotten worse as his hips deteriorated. However, the obvious benefits of healthy hips can't be ignored.

I just hope Rob Johnson is a better hitter, one way or another. His hip surgeries should only make him a stronger candidate to improve, especially since there were reasons to think he would improve before the surgeries.

Sweeney Doing Garko a Favor

Ryan Garko
Consensus seems to be that Mike Sweeney's killer spring has earned him a roster spot. That should mean that Ryan Garko does not have a roster spot. Since Garko has options, he would presumably be sent down to AAA Tacoma. It would be a little odd, given that he signed as a major-league free agent. But, Ryan was signed for close to the minimum with incentives, and from the beginning the acquisition had a "sure, why not?" kind of vibe.

At the major league level, we are talking about the player most likely to get some ABs at DH against left-handers, and maybe an occasional start at first base. I don't think the team is much different, personnel-wise, with Sweeney instead of Garko.

Tacoma looks different with Garko around though.

Tommy Everidge, Mike Carp, and Brad Nelson are already ticketed for AAA.  They are all primarily first baseman, though Nelson and Carp can probably play some outfield. However, even with a couple guys splitting time in the outfield, and rotating players through DH too, is there really room for FOUR first baseman?

No, there is not.

The Mariners could cut someone to free up the logjam, or stash someone down in AA for a spell. Brad Nelson would likely be the odd man out in either case. I won't be heartbroken if the M's take this path, because Nelson isn't exactly the type of player you pave a path to the major leagues for.

However, I think there is a much better solution. It wasn't too long ago that Cleveland switched Garko to first base, from catcher. The switch had as much to do with Victor Martinez as it had to do with Ryan Garko's abilities. Check out this article to see what people were saying back when the switch was a work in progress.

At first base, Ryan Garko is a blah defender at best with a blah bat at best by first base standards. He is destined to become a nomad that finds his way on to major league rosters here and there. If he gets hot with the right team at the right time, perhaps he develops a reputation as a solid pinch-hitter.

What if Garko can still catch? His bat is pretty nice by catcher standards. If he can handle a pitching staff well, he could easily be a valued reserve for many more years, if not an option some teams would consider as a starter. As far as the Mariners are concerned, the switch could transform Garko from a marginal, redundant luxury into a depth-building asset.

It makes all the sense in the world for everyone involved to stick Garko behind the plate, if/when he is optioned to Tacoma. There are good reasons to think Garko could make the switch, and the upside is obvious, both for Garko and the Mariners.

Mike Sweeney could be an impact signing after all.

Ain't over 'til it's over, and we haven't begun

Milton Bradley is getting ejected every other day. Cliff Lee got suspended, but it doesn't matter anyway with his abdominal strain. Doug Fister got drilled by a line drive. Jack Hannahan won't be ready for the start of the season. All Chone Figgins does is walk and boot more balls at second base than any of us are comfortable with. Jose Lopez isn't making anyone forget about Adrian Beltre at third base, either.

Where did all the optimism go?

It shouldn't be tempered as much as it is right now. There are all sorts of reasons to be excited for this team and its potential - or at least a whole bunch of reasons to not have a drastically different opinion after the past week or two of spring training.

First of all, the injuries are getting blown out of proportion. Jeff Sullivan over at Lookout Landing did an excellent job calming nerves about the Jack Hannahan situation. If Hannahan had pulled his groin in May, I'd be shocked if people reacted like they have right now. He is a utility infielder gone for a couple weeks, and he isn't the only utility infielder the M's have. Depth is as much about having guys you can limp along with when little things pop up as having guys as good as each other. This team can limp along with whoever takes Hannahan's spot.

Copy and paste that last paragraph for the Doug Fister's little injury, though I think in the end he will be ready anyway, and I'm not sure he makes the roster even if he is totally healthy.

Cliff Lee's abdomen is more troublesome. Not only is Lee a critical piece, but it wreaks of an injury that could linger. However, have we forgotten about the 2009 Angels already? Remember how they started the year without Kelvim Escobar or John Lackey, and everyone wondered who would step up in their rotation? Then, on top of that, Nick Adenhart DIED a couple weeks into the season? Kelvim Escobar never came back for the Angels, but John Lackey did, and at the end of the year the Angels were among the best teams in baseball.

Does an abdominal strain to the number two starter sound as bad as what the Angels faced last year? I know I am glossing over significant personnel differences, but the point is that nobody had the Angels pegged as a premier team coming out of spring training last year. People (including myself) looked at their injuries and said "no way," but yet there they were. There is freedom for things to happen when games are decided on the field, regardless of what might be expected.

Lastly, here and there I see some fretting over Griffey's lack of production in the spring, and the errors accumulating at second and third base. These worries could be prophetic. I'm not going to say they don't matter. However, if we are worried about spring performances, guys like Eric Byrnes and Casey Kotchman can't be conveniently ignored. Both look pretty darn good. Their performances have as much of a chance to be prophetic as anyone else's.

It is too easy to lose sight of the big picture in spring training. Production only becomes a story when it is connected to some pre-existing assumption. People already wondered if Griffey could produce, and already wondered if the Figgins/Lopez position switch would work too. Injuries are magnified because they upset the all-important opening day roster. From a player's perspective, I don't doubt that it's a big deal to break camp with the big league ballclub. From an organizational perspective though, injuries should be assumed. Losing a guy for a week or two is unfortunate, but it happens, and it's a week or two out of a six-month season whether it happens in early April or the middle of June.

A couple weeks ago, I thought this team had a chance to win the division, and a pitching staff with the potential to carry it on a deep postseason run. Nothing has happened since then to change this team's potential. We haven't learned much about this team in the past few weeks that we didn't know a couple months ago, Cliff Lee's abdominal pull notwithstanding. That's not enough for me to lose my optimism, especially with how young the season is. There is no good reason to think much of anything different yet.

How To Get Francisco Liriano

The toughest news of the spring so far came out of Twins camp over the weekend. Joe Nathan, a couple weeks removed from feeling a twinge in his elbow, is going to have Tommy John surgery. His 2010 season is over before it ever got started. It's a devastating loss for Minnesota, and for all of baseball. Year in and year out, Nathan has been as good as they come at closer, bar none - even Mariano Rivera and Jonathan Papelbon. Nathan is at that ethereal level, and people would notice it a bit more if he was in a bigger market.

Anyway, I'm not writing about Joe Nathan to talk about how awesome he is. I'm writing about him because he is a Minnesota Twin, and with him on the shelf for the year, the Twins all of a sudden need a closer. The most logical internal options for them are promoting Jon Rauch from setup man, or taking Francisco Liriano out of the rotation. The Twins seem opposed to giving a Liriano a chance, and I have a hard time believing that they are terribly enthused at giving Rauch, a waiver-wire pickup late last year, the reigns to the most important spot in the bullpen.

What if Jack Z were to give Twins GM Bill Smith a jingle, and offer David Aardsma, their pick of one of our younger fringe starters (Garret Olson, Luke French, Jason Vargas, Doug Fister, Nick Hill...), and a marginal position prospect (I'm thinking Matt Mangini), for Francisco Liriano?

Minnesota's closer problem is solved. David Aardsma anchors the position. The younger fringe starter takes Liriano's spot in Minnesota's rotation. That player would be cheap and under team control for several years, much like Liriano is right now. He would be a noticeable step down from Liriano, but that's okay, because the closer spot is significantly upgraded in the deal. Matt Mangini could be an answer at third base for Minnesota in a year or two. He helps offset whatever upside they lost trading away Liriano.

This deal would be bold on Seattle's end, but I would do it in a heartbeat. Much has been written about the role luck likely played in Aardsma's surprising 2009 performance. His trade value will never be higher, and the back end of the bullpen can take his loss thanks to the addition of Brandon League. In fact, both League and Mark Lowe are arguable as good or better than Aardsma right now. It won't take too long for Josh Fields to be added to the back-end mix either.

In return, the Mariners would get a promising southpaw that could help this team no matter what role he ends up in. Let's say Liriano regains his stamina and form as a starter. Could you imagine a September rotation featuring Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee, a resurgent Francisco Liriano, revitalized Ian Snell, and healthy Erik Bedard? That's a rotation that would generate quite a few swings and misses.

However, Liriano's stuff profiles well in short relief too. Maybe Ryan Rowland-Smith develops into the inning-eater he seems like he can become, or Liriano just can't maintain his filthy stuff for long stretches. Liriano could become the shut-down lefty in the M's bullpen that they haven't had for a while. He could be the best one they've had since Arthur Rhodes.

I don't foresee any deal happening. Liriano for Aardsma, a AAAA starter, and a marginal position prospect doesn't pass the "eye test" for me. However, Carlos Silva for Milton Bradley didn't either, or Cliff Lee for three prospects (none with MLB or AAA experience). A Twins trade in the wake of Nathan's injury has entertained my thoughts for the past day and a half, and I bet something has crossed Z's mind as well.

Rethinking Pitching Staffs

I ran across this post on FanGraphs this morning talking about fifth starters, and how they are mostly mythical. Not as in teams don't use them, but as in it's highly odd for anyone to man the position for the majority of the year. Heck, with the post's cursory look at 2009 rotations, consistent fourth starters are hard to find too.

One thing I've wondered the past few years is why teams are so adamant on five-man rotations. Four-man rotations worked for a long time in baseball, and if it is that hard to find a fifth starter, why not consider them again?

My idea is more of a four and a half man rotation. Every effort is made to keep the top three or four starters in rhythm, meaning they pitch every five days. Thanks to off days, it should be theoretically possible to skip starters from time to time and keep everyone else in regular rhythm. The drawback is that the starter skipped doesn't appear for over a week.

There is a pretty easy solution to that skipped starter predicament though. They become an extra bullpen arm for a few days. That comes in handy from time to time too.

What kind of difference would this approach make?

In a 162-game schedule, if a team never breaks their five-man rotation, the starts will break down as follows:

  1. 33 starts
  2. 33 starts
  3. 32 starts
  4. 32 starts
  5. 32 starts

Taking the Mariners 2010 schedule, and keeping the starters in order, but skipping the fifth starter when possible, yields the following breakdown:

  1. 34 starts
  2. 34 starts
  3. 34 starts
  4. 33 starts
  5. 27 starts
Taking the Mariners 2010 schedule again, and then going starter-by-starter, starting each of them every fifth day as frequently as possible, yields this breakdown:

  1. 36 starts
  2. 35 starts
  3. 34 starts
  4. 32 starts
  5. 25 starts
The drawback of this last one is that the rotation gets out of order for most of the middle of the year, but interestingly enough it gets back on track for September.

Of course, this is all in an ideal fantasyland too, where starters never get hurt. A vast majority of rotations face injuries, and when those happen, things get messed up. Usually the hiccups in the road force re-shuffling, and often great starters pick up a few extra starts thanks to the process.

Situational relievers have revolutionized the bullpen, and if something is going to revolutionize it again, it will be a re-conceptualization of starting pitcher use. Clearly, it isn't that difficult to concentrate starts within four pitchers without ever making any of them start on short rest.

I would like to see a team try something radical: create a "swingman" role on the pitching staff. What if a team featured four starters, three swingmen, and four relievers? The starters would be traditional starters, the relievers traditional back-end relievers. The swingmen would provide long relief and spot starts in the fifth spot. On any given time the fifth spot came up, it would be the duty of the all the swingmen to get through the first six to seven innings.

On this theoretical pitching staff, it would be possible/expected for a swingman to only go up to three or four innings at a time. That would allow him to return to the bullpen quicker, probably after only a few days of rest, meaning the bullpen shouldn't get overexerted too badly. Furthermore, from a competitive standpoint, it asks a fringe starter to only go through a lineup one or two times. Guys often end up in the bullpen, or fifth rotation spot, because they aren't that effective multiple times through a lineup. This model could possibly squeeze a better performance out of the fifth starter than any one of the individuals could accomplish on their own.

Injuries to a pitching staff could be easier to deal with too. If a starter gets hurt, one of the swingmen takes the slot, and it won't take them long to stretch out. It would be an adjustment, but not a radical one, especially because they have been facing major-league hitters already. Then, a player called up from AAA could take a swingman role, meaning the manager could keep them stretched out to a certain extent while also picking places to give them a (hopefully) soft landing. A similar process could work for short reliever injuries too, because it wouldn't be a quantum leap for a swingman to scale down from three to four innings of work to just one.

The swingman pitching staff model is just a thought experiment of mine, but I think it could work well. At its best, it would concentrate innings pitched among the best pitchers on the staff, while also clumping innings among the fringe guys on the staff in such a way that should improve their effectiveness. At its worst, it may overexert everyone. However, the problems largely would come down to pitcher use, which is a problem any bad manager faces already.

If the swingman model was used by the 2010 Mariners, I would make the four starters Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee, Ryan Rowland-Smith, and Ian Snell. The swingmen would be Jason Vargas, Sean White, and Kanekoa Teixeira. The relievers would be Shawn Kelley, Brandon League, Mark Lowe, and David Aardsma. When Erik Bedard comes back, I would likely put him in the swingman role, and consider bumping him up to the regular rotation if he finds his command quickly.

The Sweeney Situation

Mike Sweeney
Mike Sweeney refuses to cool down. He is still hitting almost .700, flashing extra-base power along the way. If intangibles matter at all, Sweeney beats anyone this side of Griffey. Sweeney's role on last year's team can't be ignored either. How could an established veteran, and core member of the clubhouse, bat .700 in the spring and not make the ballclub?

Here is how. The Mariners will carry 13 or 14 position players. Casey Kotchman, Jose Lopez, Jack Wilson, Chone Figgins, Milton Bradley, Franklin Gutierrez, Ichiro, Ken Griffey Jr, and a couple catchers are definitely on the team. That's 10 of the slots taken. At least one spare outfielder, and one spare infielder will be kept. That brings the total to 12 spots spoken for, none of which Mike Sweeney can fill.

Let's assume the spare outfielder is Eric Byrnes, and the spare infielder Jack Hannahan. That leaves Ryan Langerhans, Ryan Garko, Matt Tuiasosopo, and Mike Sweeney battling for one or two roster spots.

Tui can go down to AAA, and he might even benefit from a little more seasoning. So, let's take him out of the competition. The question becomes the pecking order between Langerhans, Garko, and Sweeney.

As far as defense goes, it's pretty easy to say that Langerhans is the best, Garko next best, and Sweeney the worst. Offensively, Sweeney and Garko are somewhat comparable, and Langerhans a step below both of them.

I'm glad I won't have to make the decision. It's going to be tough with how well Sweeney has performed, and what he does in the clubhouse. Players are professionals, but they are still people. I would be disappointed if I was a player and Sweeney didn't make the team, especially after a killer spring.

Is that enough to keep Sweeney though?

It might be if Eric Byrnes looks good enough to cover center field. Otherwise, Ryan Langerhans almost certainly takes a spot, and that might squeeze Sweeney out.

Cliff Lee's suspension situation is a significant deal too. The Mariners might be forced to start the season with 12 pitchers because of it, and the roster spot sacrificed might be the one Sweeney has a chance at.

One thing is for certain. Mike Sweeney has done everything he can to make the Mariners. I am interested to see how much he plays as the regulars get on the field more. It might be telling of what Wak is leaning towards doing.

I thought Mike Sweeney had no chance of making the Mariners, but he can't be ignored at this point.

Coverage That Annoys Me

I happened upon a piece this morning by respected Sports Illustrated baseball reporter/writer Jon Heyman. It's title is "Griffey embraces ambassador role for promising Mariners, majors." The full article is available here, if you want to read it.

I get excited when the Mariners receive national attention, so I was excited to read this article. In particular, it seemed that it would focus on Griffey's impact off the field, so naturally I thought we might get an inside view on his clubhouse antics. I was settling in for a heart-warming feature on a player's transition from superstar to aging icon.

Instead, I got an eyeful about steroids, with a glancing blow to Milton Bradley thrown in for good measure.

The second through seventh paragraphs allude to steroids or performance-enhancing drugs to some degree, often times focusing on how Griffey's achievements are so remarkable because he didn't use anything. Then, the last paragraph and very last line of the entire piece come back to the notion of Griffey being clean. Is there much doubt that PEDs were a central theme to this little piece?

I'm just so tired of it. I'm happy that Ken Griffey Jr. didn't do steroids. It helps the whole "ambassador" image that Heyman highlights. It adds a new wrinkle to Griffey's nickname, "the Natural," thanks to the era he played in. It's something worth pointing out.

However, just as Griffey says in the article, the steroid era is in the past. Griffey even says that it's time to let what happened go, and he subsequently rattles off names of seven different players that he thinks fans should be looking forward to seeing play in the game right now. Clearly, Griffey's focus was on the here-and-now, his role with the Mariners, and perhaps his role in Major League Baseball too. Yet, the article still came back to steroids, and finished on that note.

The baseball media turned a blind eye to the steroids scandal as it unfolded, and that's unfortunate. It is articles like these though that make me feel like baseball media is trying to solving veering off the right side of the road by veering off to the left. Let the steroids scandal go. For heaven's sake, let it go. You might just find a group of youngsters in Peoria gawking as their boyhood idol, the one that perhaps made them want to play baseball, hands out ridiculous shirts with Rick Adair's mug on it. This part of Griffey has at least as much to do with the ambassador image as his non-use of PEDs, and it would be nice to see it covered as such.

So that's one thing that annoys me. Another is coverage of Milton Bradley. The national baseball media is being unfair to him. From the Heyman article focusing on Griffey:

...Yet another "improvement'' was importing Milton Bradley, the temperamental star who blew up on Chicago's North Side last year. Bradley seems better located in the faraway Great Northwest and occupies a locker a few paces down from Griffey, who seems to be making a special point of involving Bradley in his seemingly nonstop revelry. Still, Bradley is wasting time reliving his unhappy times in Chicago and typically blaming others...
It is important to acknowledge that this was in an article about Griffey, and so the quote is largely meant as a point to show how Griffey includes players. However, there are definitely a few assumptions being thrown around about Milton Bradley in the above words.

As a quick aside, Heyman is referencing the war of words between Bradley and the Cubs that escalated with this interview of Bradley done by Colleen Dominguez for ESPN.

To set the scene, Colleen Dominguez showed up to Mariners spring training, and had an exclusive, sit-down interview with Milton Bradley in which she asked him about his time with the Cubs. In Heyman's article, that is lumped in with "wasting time reliving his unhappy times in Chicago."

What should be expected? Bradley was asked questions about his past, and he answered them. It's not as if some beat reporter asked him how spring training was going, and he just went off about how awful Chicago was last year. This was a sit-down exclusive, where Dominguez had total control to ask Bradley what she wanted. She went straight for his time in Chicago.

Interestingly, the video of the interview isn't up anymore (it used to be with the article I linked to). I saw it before it was taken down, and all I'll say is that it's much more probable ESPN would take it down if it reflected badly on Colleen Dominguez, and by extension ESPN, than on Bradley. I didn't care for how Dominguez conducted the interview, and there are at least a few others (those are separate links) who came away with similar feelings.

I've seen Bradley make comments here and there in the past that he feels like people take unfair shots at him. This incident, from when he was with the Rangers, comes to mind. There was the pretty epic blow-up in San Diego too, where he tore his ACL as he was refrained from an umpire by Padres manager Bud Black (the umpire was reprimanded for his actions in that incident, by the way).

We've seen Milton Bradley do things and say things nobody else in baseball comes close to mimicking. It makes him fascinating, unique, and with what he does, a little bit scary. There is something about Bradley that makes him a little more volatile than anyone else.

However, I'm coming around to Bradley's point of view. Why is the world out to get him? Why is he cut  off mid-sentence as he's trying to articulate an intelligent thought? His words were spun into something they clearly weren't meant to be in the recent ESPN exclusive.

For me, the worst part of Dominguez's interview was when they were discussing the hate mail that Milton Bradley got in Chicago. Bradley mentioned that he got some, just like other black players had, and just as he had received in other major cities. He turned it into the Cubs PR office, and that was that.

Dominguez badgered Bradley over and over though, asking if he thought the hate mail had come from within the organization, once he revealed that much of it only had his name on it. Bradley never caved, but finally said he didn't know, but hoped it didn't. Even that much of a non-committal answer had to be pried out of him, but judging from the Cubs' GM's reaction, it hardly got communicated as the forced response it was.

I'm losing my excitement for national Mariners media coverage. If it continues to look like it has recently, it's going to get very annoying. The 2010 Mariners aren't about the turn-of-the-millennium steroids scandal. They aren't defined by the 2009 Cubs either. They have storylines of their own, some of which could have national interest...such as an aging icon embracing his role as senior figure (while maintaining a childish persona), or the latest fresh start for one of baseball's most volatile, star-crossed talents.

Floating Realignment Should Be Sunk

The "special committee for on-field matters" that Bud Selig created is taking legitimate looks into things that could make baseball better. Tom Verducci has a brief write-up on a floating realignment idea that they committee has bandied about, and apparently likes.

Read the article linked to above for more details, but the idea essentially is that teams could move into a division up to two time zones away from their "home division" if it is better for their team's goals. The specific example mentioned in the article is that the Rays could move to the AL Central, and the Indians to the AL East. The idea is that the Rays would benefit from not competing head-to-head with the Yankees, and the Indians would be happy to get more money from added home dates with the Red Sox and Yankees.

I give some credit for creativity with this idea. It's outside the box, and that's what is needed for true progress with anything. This is also just an idea, not something really actively being pursued or promoted by baseball to this point.

I hope it doesn't get pursued any further.

Think about it: the whole impetus behind this plan is to allow teams to get away from the Red Sox and Yankees (and perhaps the Dodgers too when their owners aren't tied up in an ugly divorce), to improve their chances at making the playoffs. To facilitate this, bad teams are supposed to prefer the added income of playing the juggernauts. In college football terms, it would be like all the good teams around Alabama in the SEC scattering to other conferences to get a better shot at the BCS, while a bunch of Sun Belt conference teams gobble up their spots. That's the plan presented to improve competitive balance.

Huh?

How in the world can anyone claim that competitive balance improves in a system designed to concentrate match-ups between the absolute best and the absolute worst? Sure, that means the middle ground plays each other more, and that should foster some really good balance in that part of the league, but it's at the price of so many mismatches.

This isn't a plan that improves competitive balance. It's a shell game, and it will give the illusion of competitive balance if someone looks in the right places and ignores others.

If baseball is really looking at floating realignment, they need to look at the English football league system. Check out the link for a few more details, but the gist of the system is that anyone can make a soccer team, you start at the bottom, and keep moving up if you are good enough. There is realignment every year, and it is mostly based on how good and bad teams are. The system apparently works for England, because soccer seems to be pretty popular across the pond.

With that said, copying England's format won't work for baseball unless they give every minor league team the chance to move up or down. That would be revolutionary, and it's not worth thinking about that much because it's beyond unrealistic.

However, if floating realignment is deemed the way to go, I would promote a system where the 30 MLB teams are stratified into three 10-team leagues: the AL, NL, and what's essentially a AAAA group. The AL and NL would each have a couple five-team divisions. The winner of each division would go the league championship series, and the winner of those series would meet in the World Series. At the "championship level," it would look a whole lot like how baseball was set up in the 1970s and 1980s.

The catch would be the AAAA league. The four best teams in it would replace the four worst teams in the AL and NL each year, or something like that. Scheduling would look different too, because I envision this set-up bringing "friendlys" into baseball. In other words, AL and NL teams would still play AAAA teams, but those games would not count towards championship standings. I would make them the first tie-breaker in both leagues though, so they would count for something  (I guess they wouldn't be true "friendly" match-ups then). Perhaps the top teams play one series against every AAAA team each year. So, if every team still plays 162 games, that means the championship season would be shortened to 132 games.

Anyway, there would obviously be ramifications, and perhaps I should devote another post to those. My point is that the only way floating realignment improves competitive balance is if it is used to stratify teams. The best must play the best regularly to make floating realignment worthwhile. The answer is not to use it to match the middle against the middle, and leave the top to face the bottom.

Early Thoughts On Spring Training

It's about time I post something this month, but the problem is that there just isn't much to be said that isn't already being said by others. Spring training is fun, but it's hard to evaluate much of what going on when a) all you have are radio broadcasts b) players only get a few ABs, or 20-30 pitches, and c) in those few opportunities, many are trying to get rust off/work on something new.

So I don't write much about spring training, other than it's fun for what it is. Personally, I don't put too much stock in spring performances unless they are way too good or bad to ignore. So far, nobody has had time to be stellar, and only Garret Olson and Kenn Kasparek have had forgettable outings.

I've come up with a few thoughts to share though:

  • I hope Chone Figgins stays at second, and Jose Lopez at third. Statistics and scouting both give good reasons to believe the move will work, and a few weeks into the experiment, both players seem to be acclimating fairly well.
  • I wonder how long Dustin Ackley will stay in the major league camp. He is getting rave reviews much like Brandon Morrow did in his first spring training. That scares me a little, but there's absolutely no room for Ackley on the opening day roster. Personally, I would still send him down once minor league camp opens up. There are enough guys that need to get work in who figure to be a part of the 2010 Mariners, and Dustin will be best served getting a lion's share of time on the field, instead of a few innings here and there.
  • Matt Tuiasosopo is off to a hot start, much like last spring training. Undoubtedly, that will increase interest in his chances to make the opening day roster. He projects as one of the final cuts anyway.
  • Mike Sweeney is off to a hot start too. There is no spot for him on the roster, but if he continues to hit well, what do the Mariners do? The players are professionals, but Sweeney was such a big part of the team last year, and he has asserted himself in the clubhouse yet again. Add a strong spring, and his situation will be as delicate as an aging non-roster invitee's can be.
  • I would like to see Ryan Garko get some time behind the plate. By all accounts, he only moved because Victor Martinez was ahead of him in the Indians organization. Garko becomes a much more valuable commodity if he can catch some.
  • Respected M's reporter Shannon Drayer has said multiple times that Eric Byrnes "looks fast" out on the field. Coming off significant leg injuries, that is worth noting. I'm not convinced his legs caused all of his problems that past few seasons, but he at least has a chance to prove me wrong if his legs are indeed strong and healthy.
Those are some of my thoughts, in no particular order. I'm open to more, and may even post more of my own in the comments if something pops up. Most of all, it's nice to have some sort of baseball action to talk about again.