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2012 Hall of Fame Ballot

This might be the last post of 2011, we'll see. I'm hoping that if I say enough times "this is the last post of 2011," the Mariners will make me look foolish by completing some big move. I also find it ironic that the last post of this year has next year in the title.

I digress. As a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, I have the privilege of filling out a Hall of Fame ballot. It does not count in the real HOF vote, but it does count for the BBA voting. I am curious to see how my fellow BBA bloggers vote, and whom we would elect if we were the BBWAA.

I won't drone on and on about how I decide who is a Hall of Famer, but I do put some thought into my standards. I believe the Hall of Fame's primary function is to preserve what baseball looks like in its highest form. This generally means accumulating remarkable statistics, but that's not everything, as you will see with my ballot. More than anything, I see the hall as where we acknowledge and define what baseball at its best ought to look like.

Because I am a fan of transparency (and ready-made blog posts), here are the players voted yes for, in alphabetical order:

Gio Latest To Go

image taken by deb roby on Flickr
I feel like I'm maintaining an A's blog right now. Another week, another mega deal involving the M's foes from the bay area. The latest sent shipping is LHP Gio Gonzalez, to the Nationals for RHP Brad Peacock, LHP Tom Milone, RHP A.J. Cole, and C Derek Norris.

Gonzalez, in my eyes, is a good but not great pitcher. That's not meant as a slam on him - good is good in my book. He has posted 3+ WAR the past 2 seasons. For me, on an ideal pitching staff, that's a number 3 starter. Gonzalez gets more than his fair share of strikeouts, which is nice, and his numbers across the board suggest that he is hard to square up. However, Gio also has a small penchant for walks, his biggest blemish. What I am interested to see is how Gio's move from a pitcher's park to a more neutral one will impact him. His home run rate allowed has been below league average, but perhaps that has more to do with the park than him. We'll have a better idea a year from now.

Reds Acquire Latos

Photo taken by SD Dirk on Flickr
The most significant trade of the offseason (to date) happened today. The Reds acquired RHP Mat Latos from the Padres for RHP Edinson Volquez, 1B Yonder Alonso, C Yasmani Grandal, and RHP Brad Boxberger. It's hard not to like this deal for both sides.

Cincinnati's end is quicker to write about, so I'll start there. Latos is a 24-year-old budding star. He's already good, and is young enough to think that he might become great. The mid-90s heat and 6'6" frame Latos possesses certainly make it easy to dream of greatness. Still, even if Latos is a finished product, he's an upgrade for Cincinnati. He is a bona fide top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher.

I doubt the Padres really wanted to give up Latos, but this was a trade they couldn't refuse.

Everyone Wins Cahill Deal

Trevor Cahill
Image taken by mwlguide on Flickr
This is old news now, but the Athletics seemed to throw in the towel on 2012 a day after the Angels signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. They dealt starting pitcher Trevor Cahill, along with lefty reliever Craig Breslow, to the Diamondbacks for pitching prospect Jarrod Parker, outfielder Collin Cowgill, and relief prospect Ryan Cook.

The timing is interesting, but probably coincidental. As much as the A's look like they gave up, this deal was likely in the works at the winter meetings. It probably would have happened no matter where Pujols signed.

Let's take a look at who the Diamondbacks acquired:

Why The Angels Stink

Photo taken by SD Dirk on Flickr
When a team signs a guy like C.J. Wilson for 5 years, $77.5 million, and that's completely overshadowed, that team has had a big day.

The Angels had a big day. They landed Albert Pujols for the cool price of a quarter billions dollars or so, spread over a decade. It's the kind of deal that's so big it's hard to comprehend. $100 million feels like an eye-popping threshold. Albert just got two and half times that, plus a little more on top.

Or how about this: Jayson Werth got the biggest free agent deal last offseason, and it's total worth ($126 million) is a little less than half what Pujols just got ($254 million). For even more perspective, A-Rod's contract is still worth $21 million more total than Albert's. Talk about getting paid.

Still, I bet Pujols will be able to find an apartment in his price range, even in the greater Los Angeles area. No need to come straight outta Compton*. Maybe he and Wilson can be roommates to pool costs, if it's a real issue.

*Unrelated to baseball, but an interesting article on the influence of gangs in amateur athletics.

Even as a realistic Mariners fan, it's hard not to feel demoralized. The M's probably weren't about to be serious contenders in 2012, but Wilson and Pujols combined for 11.0 WAR last year, and they are bringing those wins to a division rival. That stinks. I shouldn't resent the Angels for making themselves better, because that's what a good, competitive team looks to do. Moreover, it's not exactly as if they got a discount, or used some sort of loophole. Maybe C.J. Wilson gave a bit of a hometown discount, but not much of one.

However, these are the Angels, and I hate the Angels. Not in the way I hate the Yankees (and I do hate the Yankees), but a hatred nonetheless. In fact, I'd say that I hate the Angels more than the Yankees, and how can I not hate them even more after today?

Rays Are Picking Machines

When the Rays traded John Jaso to the Mariners, I wondered who their starting catcher would be. I didn't see a strong candidate on their roster, though they had options. A day after trading Jaso, they signed Jose Molina, and Rays GM Andrew Friedman had this to say:
Jose has been one of the best defensive catchers in baseball over the past decade, and his presence will bring even more stability to our defense, and he will, of course, be a great asset to our young pitchers.
(you can check this article to confirm he really said this)

Now, it's not like a GM will ever come out when they sign a guy and say, "well, he has limited offensive upside thanks to huge holes in his swing, but he's adequate." There's always some gamesmanship when commenting on an acquisition. You want people to feel good about the player just acquired.

Still, when Friedman says someone is a good defender, he knows what he is talking about. Friedman took over the Rays in 2006, and under him the Rays clearly made defense a priority, right around the 2007 offseason. The following is a list of Tampa Bay's defensive efficiencies (which is simply the percentage of balls in play that turn into outs) since 2006, along with their rank in Major league baseball that year:

Signing Ford a Minor Deal

photo via Aunt Juli on Flickr
The Mariners made a small move, signing OF Darren Ford to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training. Geoff Baker sees this as a precursor to some major deals, and he may be right. The Mariners are in on Prince Fielder, and that would be a major deal.

Well, I take that back. Geoff Baker isn't right. The Mariners might be on the cusp of a major deal, but signing Darren Ford has little to do with it.

Prince Fielder's Price Tag

The Mariners are in the running for Prince Fielder, on some level at least. I'd hope they look at him. He is the painfully obvious answer to energize an offense that's a year removed from being the worst in American League history. If money wasn't an object, there would be no debate over signing him.

However, money is an object. More importantly, it's an object that Prince Fielder will demand and receive. The Mariners (in my estimation) are not just Prince Fielder away from being a championship contender. He raises their expected win total considerably, but the M's need to be able to acquire other pieces, even if they secure Prince's services.

So, the real question is not whether Fielder is worth going after or not. What needs to be asked is how much is Fielder worth going after?

Mariners Acquire Jaso

The Mariners have traded RHP Josh Lueke to the Rays, along with a player to be named later or cash considerations, for C John Jaso. Presumably, Jaso will be Miguel Olivo's backup, and also becomes the closest thing the organization has to a long-term solution this side of Adam Moore.

Jaso is what he is, a left-handed hitting catcher without much of an arm, but steady hands, and a steady bat. He has a bit of power (which Safeco won't kill, because he's left-handed), but his patience is his greatest asset.

Interestingly enough, Jaso and Olivo's strengths and weaknesses complement each other nicely. It makes a platoon a logical possibility, but in reality, I think some of Olivo's value comes in his tough-nosed insistence on playing every day. My sense is that Olivo is a leader within the clubhouse, and that's a good thing with his toughness and competitive fire. This is still a young team looking to impart "the Mariner way" on inexperienced players, which is why I am pretty sure Jaso won't be playing too much. Still, the Mariners lacked depth at catcher. Jaso is a welcome and needed addition.

The New CBA

Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association officially have a new five-year Collective Bargaining Agreement. The preceding one was set to expire December 11, so this deal was struck weeks before the deadline. Based on very recent history in the NFL, NBA, and even NHL a few years ago, baseball should be nominated for Nobel prizes. Major American professional sports leagues simply don't reach agreements until the 11th hour, or later...or much later.

What's even more remarkable is that the MLB reached a new deal easily despite making massive changes within the CBA. Legitimate negotiating had to take place to make this deal happen. This isn't a case where everyone got around a table, and agreed to keep the status quo. There are tons of changes with seismic implications.

Halman Tragically Passes

The news that Greg Halman was stabbed to death is painfully hard to take - even for someone like me, who is barely connected to the guy. I never knew him, or talked to him. All I did was root for him because he was a Seattle Mariner.

I won't attempt to paint a portrait of the person that Greg Halman was. I hope people do, because he seems like he was a great guy (which makes today's news even tougher). As a player, he might have been the best athlete in the system. Halman was very "toolsy," but still raw. He was progressing though. Now we'll never no how good he would have been.

It's too early to talk about the roster implications too. It simply feels insensitive, and rather unimportant at the moment. A topic that popped up from time to time was what the Mariners would do with their glut of younger outfielders, but this most certainly was the farthest thing from a solution that anyone wanted. I think everyone wishes that the picture was more crowded right about now.

All that's left to talk about is Halman's passing itself.

Baseball In Living Color

It's been a busy week in baseball history. The Astros are moving from the NL Central to the AL West. Each league is getting an additional playoff team. A new CBA is all but agreed upon, lacking only some formal pomp and circumstance to complete the deal.*

*By the way, NFL - and especially NBA - MLB just proved it is possible to, you know, negotiate these things in good faith. The deadline was December 11. Why do pro sports leagues feel a need to go on so long, and lockout/strike - especially you, NBA, where your season is perilously close to being flushed down the toilet?

There are plenty of things to talk about in baseball this week as major changes are clearly afoot. You know what caught my eye more than anything this week though?


In the past week and one day, five different teams have announced uniform changes. If you crave in-depth analysis on a regular basis about what teams wear, Uni Watch is the unquestioned authority. Still, I've got my two cents to add, because an emerging trend has become the new fashion statement. Bright is back in style in baseball.

Papelbon's the Choice

The Phillies signed RHP Jonathan Papelbon to a 4 year, $50 million deal after a reported 4 year, $44 million agreement with RHP Ryan Madson fell through. Madson was the Phillies closer last year, and it is interesting that things did not work out for whatever reason. It will be even more interesting if Madson ends up with another NL East team, like the Nationals, who are rumored to be a suitor for his services.

I'm not sure if either Papelbon or Madson are worth long-term contracts at the price tags they demand, but I'm not about to chastise the Phillies. Their window of opportunity is right now, and their roster isn't getting any younger. They are a better team right now with a guy like Papelbon closing for them. This is a team worth buying talent for right now, even if it means dealing with some unsavory consequences later.

Plus, signing Papelbon instead of Madson is clearly a better decision.

11 Awareness Day

With a day off from work, I definitely want to write today. However, it's surprisingly tough to write about baseball right now. I've always got ideas, but there is just so much going on outside of baseball at the moment. For starters, the stunning Penn State scandal is still setting in. Today is Veteran's Day too, and honoring the military is important. This isn't the best day to focus on baseball.

However, it is also 11/11/11, so what better day to take a quick break from reality to remember Edgar Martinez?

It's not as if I have some novel insight about Edgar to share with the world at this point. He was my favorite baseball player growing up though, so an excuse to look at his numbers is always welcome. Just for fun, to remember how amazing of a hitter 'Gar was, let's compare his career averages with what we just saw out of the 2011 Mariners offense. Where would Edgar stack up amongst the best of the 2011 M's?

Trade Targets Via Free Agency

With free agency kicking off in earnest today, this is a good time to talk about what the Mariners could do in free agency, and whom they should go after.

The answer is so boring though. Given how bad they have been, this isn't exactly a franchise that many quality veterans will line up to play for. Plus, with the youth movement underway, it's not the greatest idea for player development to keep young players from playing. It all adds up to the M's being far away from any juicy free agent action, in all likelihood.

Interestingly enough though, the M's have money to spend. They have roughly $30 million, if they keep the same payroll that they had this season. That's enough to talk to anyone, even Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, but again - would any of the premium free agents really look at Seattle as a great fit for them?

Instead, the Mariners might be able to indirectly benefit from the most expensive free agents. They are in a position to take on salary, which could make them a good trade partner.

2011 All Former Mariners FAs

Conveniently, there are exactly 25 unrestricted free agents that have played for the Mariners. What would that roster look like? Let's find out!

Anatomy of 2011 Champions

The Cardinals didn't look like the best team in baseball over the course of the regular season, but they more than earned their stripes from September onward. Even though the team came on, almost out of nowhere in the final month, it wasn't built overnight. Any champion is built on the foundation of several sage moves over several years. Here, in chronological order, is how St. Louis acquired every player on their postseason roster:

Final Game of 2011

First of all, wow, game six was a game for the ages. 'Nuff said. The momentum swings, comebacks, and puzzling/dubious decisions made in the late innings (particularly by the Rangers) made for incredible theater. That would have been one of the most amazing games of the regular season, and for such a gem to take place on such a pressure-packed stage is a treasure to celebrate (except for Rangers fans, of course).

Now, I have to admit, I come in with a significant bias to this post. I have to work through the entirety of game seven, including at least the first 6 or 7 innings of extra innings if it were to go that long. I'm missing the whole game, and that's a tough pill to swallow. So, on some level it is therapeutic to say, quite simply, tonight's game between the Rangers and Cardinals will likely be a letdown.

2011 Stan Musial Award Winners

The MVP award-winners of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, the Stan Musial Award recipients, were announced this morning. The results surprised me a bit, though not in a disappointing way. It will be interesting to see if they are a harbinger of things to come from the BBWAA, and their voting for the MVP awards.

In the National League, Matt Kemp took away the honors in dominating fashion. He was a unanimous selection. I wouldn't be surprised if Kemp takes home the NL MVP, but I would be surprised if his selection is so convincing.
In the American League, Jose Bautista just outpaced Jacoby Ellsbury, 225-200. At the All-Star Break, Bautista seemed to be a lock for the award, but a relatively sluggish second half, combined with other dramatic story lines (the Rays surge/Red Sox collapse) shoved him completely out of the spotlight. Overall, Bautista is certainly a worthy award-winner, but he is one that requires a good memory from voters.
Click "continue reading" if you want to see the full press release, and breakdown of the voting:

2011 Walter Johnson Award

Here's a shocker: Justin Verlander was voted the best pitcher in the American League. Meanwhile, in the National League, the voting was slightly more interesting, though in the end not terribly close. Clayton Kershaw outdistanced Roy Halladay to be crowned the best of the senior circuit. Halladay would have had my vote personally, but apparently I was also the only person to vote for Doug Fister in my top five for the AL.

You regular readers already know the drill. Click "continue reading" for the press release and full results:

Perfectly Flawed

Tony LaRussa just managed his sixth team to a league pennant, and will begin his quest for a third World Series title today. He is a four-time Manager of the Year, and only one of those awards came in a year in which his team went to the World Series. His managerial record is 5,097-2,728 2,728-2,365, which includes a winning record with each of the three teams he has managed.

Tony La Russa also has a reputation as an overmanager. He was perhaps at his best/worst on April 17, 2010, when a 20-inning affair ended with a pitcher playing left field, and an outfielder on the mound. La Russa also is the king of specialized bullpen roles, and is far from afraid to change his lineup regularly and liberally.

Generally, La Russa's managerial style often flies in the face of what sabermetrics have suggested as best practices. Yet, despite that, his teams consistently win. There are even ones (like his current Cardinals) that have exceeded expectations.

2011 Goose Gossage Award Winners

The BBA released this year's Goose Gossage Award Winners this morning, honoring the top reliever in each league. Jose Valverde is the recipient in the AL, and Craig Kimbrel in the NL. I voted for Mariano Rivera personally, but I can't get too upset over Valverde. He was perfect on saves, after all.

For the full press release, go ahead and click "continue reading."

2011 Willie Mays Award Winners

The BBA announced their (our? I am a member) 2011 Willie Mays Award winners on Thursday. My bad for not posting them until now.

The NL award was given to Craig Kimbrel, the Braves closer. I didn't have an NL vote, but I thought he was the obvious choice.

In the AL, Jeremy Hellickson and Eric Hosmer tied for the win. There was a wide spread in the AL voting, which you can see by clicking on "continue reading" for the press release. Of course, I voted for Michael Pineda, and I have to say that I am disappointed at how relatively weak of a showing he had. I am not sure Pineda has a brighter future than Hellickson or Hosmer, but I am pretty certain he had a better rookie season. Now I know I am in the minority.

Again, for the full press release, simply click "continue reading."

Red Sox Fall Continues

With all due respect to Ben Cherington, the next Red Sox GM, the franchise he takes over is in shambles as much as such an affluent franchise can be. Sure, the BoSox have money, prospects, and some really talented players - but they also have this whole debacle to deal with.

I wrote a few weeks ago when Francona left that it didn't seem like the Red Sox to do such a thing, but it sure looks like it is at this point. With Theo Epstein gone too, and David Ortiz all but gone - perhaps to the Yankees - it certainly feels like the door has shut on the era that finally broke the curse of the Bambino.

It's always good to keep moving forward. It's not always good to upset the apple cart.

2011 Connie Mack Award Winners

The BBA Connie Mack Award winners were announced today. As a voting member, I will make sure to share all award results as they are announced.

In the American League, Rays manager Joe Maddon took top honors, while in the National League D'Backs skipper Kirk Gibson was a unanimous winner.

Neither vote was close at all, and it is hard to argue with either winner. Click "continue reading" for the official announcement, which includes vote totals, and links to all the ballots cast.

Former M's, 2011 Playoffs Edition

I will honor the traditional code that baseball teams have to abide by, and avoid talking about anything besides the playoffs during the playoffs. Since the Mariners are not in the postseason, there isn't much to type about at the moment. I found a small angle though.

How about some former Mariners? Who is still playing that once suited up in the Emerald City?

  • Casey Kotchman, 1B, Rays - I meant to write something about Kotchman's revival with the Rays during the season, so I'll throw it out there now. The biggest difference between his 2011 and 2010 were a bunch of singles. In other words, balls simply falling in. Part of me thinks this is just luck, but another part of me wonders if he made some sort of adjustment in Tampa Bay. I just don't know. I was certain he had tough luck with the M's last year, but not that bad of luck.

2011 Awards

As a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, I have the opportunity to vote on postseason awards. Since I am a Mariners blog, I only vote on American League awards. Here are my picks for each award, along with a little rationale behind them. I will post the final results of the voting when it comes out, and compare the BBA picks with the BBWAA. The BBA awards will be announced a full month earlier, so expect some reaction on them first:

Red Sox and Francona Split

I just had to push at least one more post out before the end of the month. I'll beat the deadline...barely. It wasn't a kind month for blog posts for many reasons:
  • The Mariners sucked
  • There weren't pennant races until the last week of the season (but how awesome were they once they showed up?)
  • My job ramped up again with the start of the school year, meaning lots of training at the start of the month
  • My job is also strongly tied to Tacoma Public Schools, so the teacher strike threw off my schedule pretty good for a good chunk of the month after training
  • I've been working on some bigger posts, which will come out in October
I do post things in my Google reader somewhat frequently (click on the "Reader" tab above to get to it), if you are ever looking for something to read with your downtime that is almost always related to sports.

With my apology and explanation out of the way, back to baseball. It's been a crazy week, and with the playoffs here, the craziness may not stop (though I think we've already seen the most dramatic action we'll get). Even with all the drama on the field, the most inexplicable news to me came out this morning, when Terry Francona and the Boston Red Sox split ways.

Filling Out The 2012 Roster

Another long season is about to conclude. It's been time to look forward to 2012 for a while now. Coming off the successful Filling Out The 2011 Roster post, here is my attempt at the same thing for 2012:

The Z Difference

I got to thinking this evening that there are currently three players from the 2009 draft on the Mariners roster - 2B Dustin Ackley, 3B Kyle Seager, and LHP Anthony Vasquez. It's way, way too early to close the book on the 2009 draft, but if history repeats itself, there will be some teams that do not get three players out of their 2009 draft classes ever. Just having a trio from a draft only two years ago make it to the majors is something to celebrate.

In fact, I got to thinking: What was the last Mariners draft class to generate three MLB players?

Fall Leaguers Announced

Arizona Fall League (AFL) rosters were announced yesterday. The AFL typically features a sampling of some of an organization's most interesting prospects in the upper levels of the minors. It's a bit of a guilty baseball pleasure to follow it, but future stars do hit the diamonds in Arizona on a regular basis.

The Mariners will send seven players to Arizona. Undoubtedly others will play in other winter leagues (Australia, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela all have leagues of their own), so this isn't an exhaustive list of players to keep tabs on in the off-season. However, it is our first glimpse of the M's off-season plan.

Here are the seven players, with some quick reaction to their selections:

A Grand Realignment Plan

Rumblings and grumblings continue to percolate that Major League Baseball may or may not expand the playoffs. It's pretty clear that there is momentum to add a wild card team to both leagues. However, it is everything else that makes this so complicated. While it seems inevitable that MLB will add playoff teams, it now appears just as inevitable that other dominoes must fall to make the change a reality.

That's fine by me.

Baseball is doing okay as is, but I've never been a fan of the unbalanced leagues. Adding playoff teams only exacerbates the problems with the current arrangement. It will become even easier to see that it is easier to make the playoffs in the American League, plain and simple. There are fewer teams, and the same number of slots up for grabs. 'Nuff said.

Somewhere near the start of the summer, a realignment idea hit me that makes a ton of sense - to me, at least. It's about time I threw the idea out there to the blogosphere to see if it resonates or not. Warning (if you only have a few spare minutes), there is a bunch of writing after the jump, to explain all the interconnected changes.

Anthony Vasquez Debuts Tonight

The Mariners have a double header today, literally starting right as I begin writing this post. The advantage of following a team out of playoff contention is that I can look ahead to this evening without talking about the game underway right now. Gotta keep the glass half full, right?

I want to talk about the next player to make his MLB debut for the Mariners this season, Anthony Vasquez. The lefty will get a spot start tonight thanks to the double-header. If I had to hazard a guess, it will be his only start before being sent back down to AAA Tacoma.

Vasquez is interesting in the way that a forester can find a piece of hanging bark remarkable, or a geologist can find a pebble on the beach mesmerizing. He won't sell tickets like Michael Pineda, but a hardcore fan can't help but take a closer look at him, and be satisfied that they did.

MLB Influence Rankings

My semi-hiatus from blogging is over! Today I'll release what might be the final influence rankings of the year. We'll see. I'm just not sure it will be interesting after today. As usual, click on the image below for a closer (in other words, bigger) look:

All the previous rankings can be found here. An explanation of what the bubble sizes and positions mean can be found here. Click "continue reading" for a few thoughts on the rankings.

Ides of August Loom

The number of first round picks that remain unsigned is staggering, particularly with about 24 hours to go before the deadline. Undoubtedly, Monday will be a busy day, but will it be busy enough for everyone to sign?

The sheer numbers, with no analysis at all, points to some folks walking away unsigned. For instance, the Rays alone will have to swing four deals tomorrow, and that's a ton to pull off in one day.

Muddying this year's negotiations are uncertainties over next year. Teams want stronger slotting of some sort, which would make draft picks cheaper to sign. Of course, players do not want that (and frankly, I side with the players on this one). Either way, the 2012 draft class also projects to be much weaker than the one drafted in June, so many prospects could conceivably make more money next season, even with a slotting system, simply because they are picked much higher.

Here are my fearless predictions on who will and won't sign:

Smoak About to get Pipped?

Mike Carp
I've been working a little closer to non-stop than usual the past few weeks, hence the lack of updates. August tends to be a dead baseball month anyway, though I've got a couple more general posts are brewing. However, after last night, I have to say something about Justin Smoak and Mike Carp.

Smoak, of course, took a ball off his face last night, and broke his nose. It's a tough break, literally, in a season that has been a series of unfortunate events for Smoak since April. Carp has already been getting regular playing time, but seems even more assured of it for the time being.

Here are some facts about Carp and Smoak:

Bedard Nets Pair of Young Hitters

Erik Bedard
This post is a day late, and I apologize, but better late than never. I probably don't even have time tonight, but I can only wait so long to say something. No need to worry - I was with good baseball friends when the trade deadline came and went, so I knew immediately. I just didn't have time to write immediately.

Before going much further, I probably should say what this post is all about. The Red Sox acquired Erik Bedard from the Mariners for Chieh-Hsien Chiang and Trayvon Robinson, both 23-year-old outfielders. Boston had to acquire Robinson from the Dodgers, so this is a three-team deal.

We probably all have a pretty decent idea what the Mariners just gave up. When Bedard is healthy, he is a darn good starter. Sometimes he racks up high pitch counts, but he typically is tough to square up. When Bedard's curveball is really working, he can be particularly tough. Erik certainly had a strong comeback campaign, and this trade reflects that. He has been untradeable for a few years, and now a contender wanted him to bolster their staff.

The inclusion of Trayvon Robinson says plenty about the deal. Clearly, the Red Sox wanted Bedard rather bad, because it is a bit of a hassle to pull an additional deal just to get another done. It also says something about how much the Mariners valued Bedard. They clearly had a type of player, or list of specific players, that would get the deal done. They did not budge until they got what they wanted. Otherwise, this would not have involved a third team.

Fister Gone, Pauley Too

Casper Wells
As I drove home from the Mariners game last night*, I heard the news that Aaron Laffey would be sent down and Dan Cortes brought up. That immediately sounded fishy to me, in a way that screamed it was part of a bigger move. It seemed to indicate that Blake Beavan was going to stay in the rotation, and while some thought that was an indication of going with six guys, I thought it was more realistic that it mean Eric Wedge would go with five, and he and Jack Z knew that somebody wasn't much longer for the roster.

*I should warn you, my faithful readers, when I'm going to a Mariners game. I have a knack for picking awful ones. I should particularly warn you when I go to a game with my dad, because all we ever do is go to cold, rainy/misty affairs.

The answer came fast. Doug Fister and David Pauley are going to the Tigers in exchange for Casper Wells, Charlie Furbush, Francisco Martinez, and a player to be named later. Indications are that Wells and Furbush will join the team immediately. This deal must have been very close last night, because sending down Laffey left no lefties in the bullpen. However, acquiring Furbush fixes that.

To begin with, this is not the Jarrod Washburn deal with the Tigers all over again. Washburn had a couple months left on his contract, and as it turned out, his career. Fister has years of team control, and probably more pitching after that left in his tank. The Tigers did not make a rental this morning.

Before talking about whom the Mariners got in return, I give Jack Zduriencik an A+ on the players he sent to Detroit. As a fan, I will miss both Fister and Pauley, but these were the right guys on the roster to shop.

The Deadline Dance

With the trade deadline coming up, if you don't already check out MLB Trade Rumors (or follow them on Twitter at @mlbtraderumors), I recommend you do. The site is one-stop shopping for trade rumors, both big and small, along with links to sources. Last night they fired off a post specifically about the Mariners. Based on the reports, it looks like:

The trade deadline is wonderful for false reports and smoke screens. Jack Zduriencik, if anything, has proven that he keeps information close to vest too. I usually completely tune out Mariners reports for both of these reasons.

This simple one from MLB Trade Rumors hits the nail on the head though. I bet it is both completely bogus and entirely true at the same time.


...And it just continues. My oh my.

The 2011 Mariners went from the little engine that might, to a collection of rusty spare parts awfully fast. A month ago, they were a collection of lovable flaws that just might be saved by an insane starting rotation. Now, there is nothing to save at all. The team wasn't scoring all that much, so I figured the run would end at some point, but who thought it would look something like this?

With the title to this post, I might as well make my one pop culture reference for the year; and even this reference is pushing the boundaries of "pop culture." True story - I had a high-schooler come up to me once and tell me that she feels the song speaks to her life. I guess it speaks to the Mariners now too.

Baseball Bloggers Alliance

This isn't a real post as much as an update. Seattle Mariners Musings is now a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA). You can read up more on the BBA and what it's about by clicking on the link in the last sentence. Long story short, I felt the Musings, and my goals with the blog, lined up well with BBA. So, I applied, and now I'm a member.

Really, nothing much will change on the Musings, with one notable exception. The BBA has its own postseason awards, and part of maintaining membership is voting in a minimum number of them. I plan on voting on every single one (the awards were actually something that made me want to join), and my votes will be published here. As much fun as "who I would pick" posts are to write, they just don't have much sizzle when they start with, "if I had a vote..." Well, now I actually do, so THIS TIME IT COUNTS.

We will see where things go, but I am excited to be a part of the BBA, and at the directions the membership may lead.

Smoak's Struggles

Justin Smoak
Justin Smoak is in a heck of a slump. It was enough to get him benched Friday night, though let's be honest, he doesn't even seem like a problem. The Mariners just took 30 innings to push across 1 run. That's not an exaggeration; that's reality.

Like most slumps, Smoak's is marked by some bad luck. So far in July, his BABIP is .161, which is brutal. At some point, some balls will avoid fielders.

However it isn't all bad luck. It's not as if Smoak has been stinging the ball lately. Low BABIP and weak contact go hand-in-hand, though it's difficult to quantify the relation. The best marker is that every hitter has an insanely high BABIP on line drives. For instance, Smoak's batting average on line drives is .607 for the year.

At some point, Smoak will snap out of this slump, but I think there is a bigger question that his past month has brought up. Which is closer to the real Smoak: the one we saw in April, capable of powering the order, or the one we see now, who is seemingly helpless?

In all honesty, I think it is impossible to say what kind of hitter Smoak really is. He has about a season's worth of plate appearances in the majors for his career. That's not a ton of data to go on. Furthermore, he is still finding his place in the majors, so fluctuations in his numbers aren't necessarily the statistical equivalent of background noise.

Still, that won't stop me from trying to glean something out of what we have seen so far. While Smoak won't always be in major slumps, he might be susceptible to them. There is an interesting trend in his batted ball profile.

The Clemens Mistrial

As I got ready to go to work yesterday morning, I just had to stop. I rather literally stopped dead in my tracks, when I saw the headline that the Roger Clemens trial was over barely after it started, thanks to a mistrial.

That probably says something about how I feel about baseball. Still, wow. What an unexpected, stunning end to a couple years of tense build-up.

I have no idea what to make of the legal happenings. I am a sports fan with a math major and a job tutoring high school students. I am no budding paralegal. There are some guys over at ESPN with law degrees that wrote and said things. Sports Illustrated also has their two cents. Dan McLaughlin at Grantland also provided a meaty write-up on the mistrial. I am sure many others have chimed in with better informed opinions of what will happen too.

For what it is worth, I asked a friend who used to work in a legal firm about the mistrial, and he anticipates that the odds of a retrial are tied to the merit of the trial itself. Judges do not like having their decisions appealed, so the judge likely is not interested in rejecting a retrial, only to have the decision appealed and ultimately overturned.

That's probably already farther than I should have gone with any sort of analysis of what's next.

MLB Influence Rankings

I got the latest rankings done a day later than I wanted, but oh well. The numbers are still from before the second half of the season started. Click on the image to enlarge it:

All the previous rankings can be found here. An explanation of what the bubble sizes and positions mean can be found here. Click "continue reading" for a few thoughts on the rankings.

Who Wants Carlos Beltran?

Carlos Beltran
Just minutes after the National League defeated the American League 5-1 (did the AL get the memo that THIS ONE COUNTS?!), the Brewers and Mets announced a trade. Milwaukee more or less took Francisco Rodriguez out of New York's hands. The official price is a couple players to be named later, but in reality, the Brewers simply agreed to pay K-Rod no matter what, and the cash-strapped Mets said, "sure."

Of course, it's not quite that simple. The Brewers are in win-now mode. There is no way that they can hold on to everyone they have right now, particularly both Prince Fielder and Zack Greinke. Their window of opportunity is now, and they are operating accordingly. Maybe taking on Rodriguez's salary blows the budget, but the 2011 Brewers are a team worth blowing the budget on.

There is an added danger with K-Rod, which should not manifest as long as he stays the set-up guy for John Axford. If Rodriguez finishes 21 more games this season (which he easily would as a closer), a $17.5 million option for 2012 kicks in. Obviously, the Mets did not want to pay that money, and now know that they won't have to. I highly doubt the Brewers want to either. Everything works fine as long as K-Rod pitches the eighth inning from here on out. It's not much of a risk, but still - $17.5 million!*

*Well, more like $14 million. K-Rod gets a $3.5 million buyout if the option doesn't vest. Still, $14 million!

It is very clear that the Mets need to clear some salary at this point. A Francisco Rodriguez trade could make sound baseball sense, but with such a small return on him in this deal, why didn't they wait until closer to the deadline to see if a better offer emerged? It looks pretty clear that the Mets are highly motivated to get rid of salaries. That's the only way this really makes sense.

On to the real subject of this post now, Carlos Beltran.

Futures Game 2011

The MLB Futures Game kicked off All Star festivities, and let's be honest, it's nice to have something besides the Angels series to think about, right? Here are some musings on the prospects that appeared in the game. Obviously, these are authoritative reports on these prospects. A handful of pitches or swings on a computer screen is all that's needed to figure out what these players will do:

Kyle Seager Promoted

Kyle Seager
Kyle Seager is coming to the majors. To make room, Jose Yepez was designated for assignment. Despite being with the ballclub for nearly a week, Yepez did his best Jeff Gray and Chris Ray impressions. He didn't get in a ballgame.

The move is interesting on a couple levels. It is certainly an ominous development for Chone Figgins, who really might be the worst player in the majors right now. A guy batting under .200 with no power, limited patience, and a mediocre glove should see his playing time diminish. Presumably, Seager came up to play some, and there aren't that many more innings to go around with Dustin Ackley at second base, and Adam Kennedy also playing some third.

2011 All-Star Reaction

It will be a rare double post day on the blog, as there are enough interesting things to talk about with both All-Star teams. Instead of going player by player, I'll highlight some of the differences between the AL and NL rosters, compared to my own selections:

My 2011 All-Stars

I thought my post would beat out the real rosters, but it didn't. You'll have to trust me that I did not look at the real ones before putting mine together.

My process is fairly straightforward. I take the players that I think are best at each position, and they are the starters. After that, I pick the best player from each team not represented. Whatever spots remaining are filled with the best remaining players, with some sensitivity to depth (for instance, there needs to be at least one backup catcher).

Personally, I don't like the expanded rosters at all, so I always like to challenge myself to keep to 25 players. So, individuals in italics are the ones that made it thanks to the expanded roster sizes.

Here are my all-stars:

An Obvious Pick-Up

Mike Cameron
Are the Mariners contenders or pretenders? There are arguments for both. Regardless, a player just hit the market that this team could, and should, go out and acquire.

Mike Cameron got designated for assignment by the Red Sox on June 30. In name, he is the same Cameron that patrolled center field for the 116-win M's in 2001, and through the turn of the millennium. In reality, he is a 38-year-old version of the strikeout-prone Gold Glover he used to be.

I guess obvious is a buzz word when it comes to linking the Mariners and Cameron. When a player has history with a team, like Cameron does with the Mariners, it is natural to root for a comeback. Stories with the flavor of the prodigal son returning home are timeless. They always appeal to the human soul.

Would a 38-year-old Mike Cameron appeal to the 2011 Mariners though?

The short answer: I don't know. The longer answer: We might as well find out.

Road Game To Remember

I was at the game last night, and while game recaps are very few and far between from me (intentionally - there's enough great ones out there already), last night's game is more than worthy of an exception. Let me count the ways that it was pure, unfiltered fun:

Pitching To Contact

Doug Fister
We all need something to wipe away yesterday's ninth inning. Uff da.

Let's focus on Doug Fister's eight innings of work prior to the meltdown. It was classic Fister. Only 99 pitches through 8 innings of work, without many hits (3), walks (1), or strikeouts (3) to talk about. Many balls went in play, and nearly all of them were converted into outs.

The sustainability of Fister's approach has been a discussion topic ever since he cracked the majors. Can a guy so seemingly hittable really clock 200 innings year in and year out, and not have hitters figure out how to hit him hard? Fister has almost accumulated two full seasons of service time in the majors at this point, and we are still waiting for the other shoe to drop. If anything, he might be getting better.

Recently, there have been several pieces discussing the merits of pitching to contact. I'm not sure what caused the outbreak. For all I know, it's just coincidence that I happened upon these writings at about the same time.

Dustin Ackley Gets The Call

Dustin Ackley
Generally, I avoid stories that have already been covered by the excellent ensemble of reporters and bloggers that dutifully follow the Mariners. However, I have to say something about Dustin Ackley. I just have to. I first noticed him as a freshman at North Carolina, and imagined how good he could be. For a fleeting second, I even wondered how wonderful that left-handed stroke would look in Safeco.

That was a pipe dream. Tomorrow, it's reality.

MLB Influence Rankings

With all the draft coverage, the monthly influence infographic had to wait until now. Here are the latest influence rankings:

An explanation of how this graphic is created, and what it represents, can be found here. Click on the picture above to see the graphic full size. For comparison, here are the April and May graphics. Click "continue reading" for a few thoughts on the graphic.

2011 Draft: Mariners Recap

I'll cut to the chase quickly. The Mariners made 51 picks in the 2011 draft, and this is a pick-by-pick account of who Seattle acquired.

I don't like grades, because it is weird to me to "fail" a team when they obviously got better. No matter how good or bad a pick is, the drafting team just got a new player, and didn't have to give a player. Instead, I'll use a star system (perhaps I ate at a Thai restaurant tonight, and perhaps it influenced me). I'll use a four start system, to force me to stray from the middle. To be clear, picks with the most stars aren't necessarily the picks with the best players. How early or late the pick is matters too:

2011 Draft: Day 3 Recap

Go me. I claimed that someone interesting from college football gets picked in the draft every year, and of course this is the year that didn't happen. The one year where they might sign for a month or two because of the NFL lockout, and none of them are picked. I never got why football players get picked with mild regularity, so I guess it is par for the course that once I warmed up to the idea, nobody went. Go figure.
There were some entertaining picks though:

2011 Draft: Day 3 Preview

Oh yes, you best believe that I would reload the draft board for day three. Honestly, the MLB talent is likely gone, but you never know.

The third day is about taking flyers on prep guys certain to go to college (such as a guy on my top 33 list still hanging out there, Trent Gilbert). It is about taking guys to fill out the short-season rosters. It will also be about doing a few favors for players, coaches, and scouts in organizations. There should be some fun names that come off the board in the waning rounds. There always are.

Personally, I wish that more teams emphasized college seniors in the third day. There are lots of quality ballplayers that may not ever make the majors, but have had great collegiate careers. Not only are they nice guys to fill out short season rosters with, but it's good for the sport to recognize these guys. It's a big deal to get drafted by an MLB team, no matter the round. How cool would it be to get paid to play baseball too, even if for only a few months?

So, today's list is mostly a collection of productive college players that don't necessarily project to the pro level. There are lots of them, and this is my little way of letting some of them know that somebody out there pays attention and salutes the job you've done on the field.

Without further ado, the players:

2011 Draft: Day 2 Recap

There's a ton more to cover on this day. There's no way to say everything, but I'll do my best to highlight what strikes my fancy as I go through the picks.

One quick note: I plan on doing a pick-by-pick analysis of the Mariners draft, but I will wait until the very end to do that. However, my quick take on today is that the Mariners made many unspectacularly solid picks. It was college heavy, and particularly heavy on guys that are simply "ballplayers" - not necessarily the tallest, fastest, or strongest, but a bunch of guys that found ways to get the job done with what they've got. They are unlikely to flame out, and also unlikely to be stars.

On to specific picks, in bullet points, organized by round. If I didn't write anything about the player mentioned, I most likely covered him either on my top 33 list, or as part of my day 2 preview:

2011 Draft: Day 2 Preview

Tomorrow is the real meat and potatoes of the draft. The headliners are for the most part gone, but one or two players do not make a draft class. Round 2 through 18 (oops, already in round 30 today) will, and there is a ton of talent still left out there.

As I mentioned in the Day 1 recap, with so many high ceiling guys flying off the board early, many dependable college guys are still out there. They may not be as flashy, but many of them are likely to outproduce players taken ahead of them. The trick is finding the right guy, getting him in the right situation, and perhaps tweaking what can be tweaked.

Instead of ranking a bunch of players (aside from the guys remaining from my top 33 list), I'll offer a handful of players at each position with brief scouting reports. I anticipate most of them going off the board at some point in day two, though who knows where.

Without further ado, a fire hose of players:

2011 Draft: Day 1 Recap

60 picks are in the books! Most teams only had one or two selections, but the headliners are gone (for the most part). Here are some rapid reactions:

  • Gotta start with the top. Gerrit Cole is a nice top selection. He isn't who I would have gone with first overall, but he is hard to argue against. I doubt the Pirates regret taking him. Pittsburgh is starting to collect elite power arms.
  • The Mariners made a surprising selection with Danny Hultzen, but it's not a bad one. I still thought Anthony Rendon was the obvious choice, but I am sure the Mariners got a critical piece of information I had no access to - the medical reports on his shoulder. It's worth noting that Rendon fell all the way to sixth, where the Nationals scooped him up. Others were wary of his shoulder, and the Nats are likely to move him to second base with Ryan Zimmerman safely entrenched at third. The Mariners don't really have the same luxury with Dustin Ackley as the long-term solution at second. It looks like the prevailing feeling around baseball is that Rendon's shoulder is a legitimate long-term concern, and given that, Hultzen makes a ton of sense for the Mariners. He will make even more sense if the Mariners go out and grab some bats early in day two.
  • The Diamondbacks loaded up on pitchers with their three picks, Trevor Bauer, Archie Bradley, and Andrew Chafin, in that order. I had them ranked 3rd, 5th, and 15th, respectively, on my big board. Bradley is a particularly bold pick, because he will cost money, and that pick is unprotected as a compensation pick from last year for not signing Barret Loux. Part of me feels like the D'Backs went too heavy on pitchers, but at the same time, there is only one other team that came away with as talented of a trio tonight...
  • ...and that team is the Washington Nationals. They were already winners when Rendon fell in their laps, and kept on winning when they grabbed Alex Meyer and Brian Goodwin later on. Even though these are all college players, they all have high ceilings. These aren't typical "safe" college picks. Meyer is 6'9" with an electric arm that he just started to harness this past year. Goodwin is only sophomore aged, thanks to transferring to a community college. He already has an advanced approach at the plate, and might hit for average and power with speed when it is all said and done.
  • The Rays started off with killer picks by taking Taylor Guerrieri and Mikie Mahtook, both of whom fell more than anyone can really explain. Then, they made a run on athletic high schoolers. I expected more of a mix out of them with all the picks, but going with the a heavy dose of prep athletes makes good sense. Several of them will probably flame out, but if the Rays can sign all of them, they've pretty much guaranteed themselves some quality players at premium positions.
  • The Red Sox did their usual cash grab by selecting Blake Swihart and Henry Owens. However, Matt Barnes wasn't a guy that fell to them because of money, and he was a nice pick to start their night. Hard not to like the trio they nabbed, along with Jackie Bradley Jr. (who I'm not so high on).
  • In general, a ton of young, athletic guys went in the draft, particularly in the sandwich round. Chicks might dig the long ball, but clearly GMs and scouting department dig more athletic guys at the moment. Pitching and defense are back in vogue.
  • That last point was my lazy transition to the losers of day one. I guess no one really loses because everyone gets talent without giving anything up. Still, some capitalize more than others. The Mets made the most conflicting pick of the night for me, when they selected Brandon Nimmo. He is an amazing story, as his high school didn't even have a baseball team. Going from that to a first round pick is remarkable, and I'm rooting for the guy. However, from a team's perspective, drafts aren't about human interest stories. Nimmo was a reach where he was taken, with guys like Mike Mahtook and Brian Goodwin still available. I'm rooting for the kid, and others were happy to see the Mets take a high school guy, but that doesn't insulate the Mets from some questioning as far as I'm concerned.
  • The pick I disliked most came from the Dodgers, as if their year could get any worse. Chris Reed isn't a bad pitcher, but he went way too high. Picking him at 16 suggests that LA will convert him to a starter. While many think he has the stuff to come out of the bullpen, there were plenty of great prep and college players that have been starting and flourishing. I'm a strong believer that you pay primarily for two things early on in the draft - elite skills, and advanced polish. Reed is good, but I don't think he has an elite tool, and he definitely does not have polish as a starter, given that he has been relieving. There is way too much unnecessary risk tied up in this pick for my liking.
All in all, it was a solid draft. I was surprised that so many teams went so heavy on youth. It doesn't seem like there is much diversity in thinking among teams right now, for better or worse. It also might be a reflection of the general belief that there were lots of good prep players this year, and on top of that it was a weaker year for college players, particularly college position players.

As a rule of thumb, Division I position players are the safest picks in a baseball draft (but also often have the least upside). Only 11 of the first 60 picks were every day players from D-I schools. I anticipate many busts in this draft because of the risks taken, but that doesn't mean that there were lots of dumb picks. The reality is that greater rewards often come with greater risks.

Still, with so many higher ceiling guys going early on, there are lots of lower ceiling guys still around that are good bets to make the majors and stick around as role players, and maybe even solid starters. I'll be back with a fatty list of guys to look for in day two shortly.

Potential Mariners Top Picks

The Mariners have only one pick tomorrow in the first round of the MLB draft, the second overall pick of course. Since baseball teams cannot trade draft picks, there day will be done about 20 minutes after it starts.

Really, aside from the Pirates, the M's couldn't have it much easier. They can go into the afternoon with a list of two players in mind, get one of them guaranteed, and then high five each other for "getting their guy" the rest of the afternoon.

The million dollar question, rather literally, is who's the guy?

As is usual with Jack Zduriencik, the Mariners are mum on whom they might pick. However, only a handful of guys make sense. Here are the most likely candidates to become the newest Mariner, in my estimation:

  • Anthony Rendon, 3B, Rice - Reports are that the Pirates are leaning towards Gerrit Cole with the top pick, which I think this is one of the best case scenarios for the Mariners. Any scenario with Pittsburgh taking a pitcher is best, because it leaves the M's with their choice of any position player. With all due respect to the 2011 Mariners, despite their winning ways, the offense still stinks. Unless the M's medical staff is worried about Rendon's shoulder, which could plausibly happen, I don't see how the M's can afford to pass him up. He is my odds-on favorite to be the pick.
  • Bubba Starling, OF, Gardner Edgerton HS (KS) - The toolsy prep phenom is a physical specimen with the chance to be a true five-tool talent. This would be a gutsy pick at the top of the draft, but the superstar potential might be enough to lure the Mariners, especially if Rendon is gone and/or if the Mariners worry about Rendon's health. He will likely be tough to sign away from Nebraska, but I am sure the Mariners have already set aside a big chunk of change to sign whomever they pick.
  • Gerrit Cole, RHP, UCLA - With Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda already around for many years, I doubt a power pitcher is on top of Seattle's wish list. However, if Rendon goes with the top pick, and the M's don't like all the risk involved with Starling, it would be hard to pass up Cole. How frightening would he be as a staff addition?
  • Francisco Lindor, SS, Montverde Academy (FL) - According to rumors last week, Lindor had a private workout with the Mariners.  There is no way he lasts until the M's second round pick, so presumably this shows a degree of interest for their first pick. The M's seem to have a solid shortstop of the future with Nick Franklin, but it's never a problem to have too many good gloves and bats up the middle.
  • Danny Hultzen, LHP, Virginia - While I think it is remote that the Mariners take Hultzen, there is a bit of a counterintuitive argument to be made for him. First of all, unlike Cole, he complements Pineda and Hernandez better as a lefty that doesn't throw in the upper 90s. Second, he doesn't seem likely to demand as high of a bonus as other potential top picks, which might save money for investments later in the draft. If Rendon is taken by the Pirates, and the Mariners do not like the prep bats available, perhaps they go for a somewhat conservative pick up top, and pick someone a little tougher to sign later on.
  • Blake Swihart, C, Cleveland HS (NM) - This is my longshot that I probably should not have put on the list at all. I haven't seen anyone link Swihart to the Mariners, and if he really was in consideration, I bet he would have held a private workout with the team by now. Plus, on top of that, I don't see any mock drafts with Swihart near the top 10. Still, I love the guy, and the Mariners have a gaping hole at catcher in the organization.
I am pretty certain that the next Seattle Mariner is in that list above. If I were in charge of the Mariners draft, I would have my fingers crossed that Rendon is passed on by the Pirates. If he were to get picked, I would consider Swihart or Hultzen, and probably lean towards Hultzen. In less than 24 hours, there will be no need to speculate anymore.

2011 Top 33

Anthony Rendon
Why 33 on this year's list?

I promise that I won't continue expanding, but what started as a casual suggestion from a friend is now a reality. Truth be told, I don't like picking arbitrary lengths for lists, especially with common numbers like 10 and 25. From now on, I will rank as many players as there are first round draft slots (excluding the "sandwich" round, which are technically supplementary first round draft picks at the end of the first round). This number will always be around 30, but will vary depending on how many teams do not sign their first round draft picks.

So, from now on, my formal list of prospects is in theory my list of first-round talents. If I ran a team's scouting department, I probably would not use a list like this, opting to put players with similar grades in large pools, and selecting the best player for my organization out of the highest pool remaining.

Pools aren't as fun to talk about as lists though, and not nearly as succinct or easy to lay out on a blog. So, a list this shall remain. Plus, it forces me to go out on a limb from time to time and actually make some decisions on particular players.

Before unveiling the prospects I like the most in 2011, I have to share that it has been a great year to follow folks from previous lists. This year alone, eight different players that I've featured in the past have made their MLB debuts, and several more are waiting in AAA. Most interesting to me is that the 2008 list has one more player than the 2007 one to reach the majors so far, which is a good sign for my personal development as a talent evaluator.

With that said, I am far from a professional. This is an intensive side hobby for me, where I depend on College Splits data, and whatever videos I can find - mostly between searches for individual players on YouTube, and videos posted on Baseball Beginnings. I owe a ton to these sites, which is why I linked to them.

While I take pride in my list, I try to remain realistic. I am one weekend warrior "competing" against trained professionals. I spend no cash at all, while teams spend thousands - if not millions - to scour the nation for the finest amateur talent, along with a small army of full-time employees at their disposal. Even outside experts get more time and resources to comb over data and reports, not to mention opportunities to see players in person. The odds should be stacked against me.

I've had some nice successes though. I had Josh Collmenter ranked as one of the 25 best college prospects in the 2007 draft, yet he lasted until the 15th round. He made the majors this year. On my very first list, I ranked Tim Lincecum as the top prospect in the 2006 draft, and that has worked out quite well too.

I love looking at prospects, and I keep faring well enough to go through the draft process each year. I try my best to be an independent thinking without being different simply for the sake of being different. These are my educated opinions based on the resources available to me. Every team should be able to do better than me, but history suggests that won't happen. Without further ado, my top 33 prospects in the 2011 draft, in reverse order:

Mariners Farm At A Glance

I feel like my annual list of MLB draft prospects needs some kind of build up, if for no other reason because it is so long. It would feel like a shock to the system without fair warning, and a little stretching.

So, why not ease into this year's draft coma with a look at the Mariners farm system as it sits right now?

All in all, I do not think it has been as exciting of a year so far in the minors for the M's, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Many new players emerged last year, and some of them are following up break-out performances with worthy encores. That's good, because it makes it less likely that some of last year's youngsters are flashes in the pan.

Still, as in any year, there are surprises, both good and bad - as well as unsurprising performances, also good and bad. Below is my overview of the M's minor league affiliates, divided into hopefully useful groups:

Self-Inflicted Middle Market Woes

About a week and a half ago I wrote about playoff diversity, mostly to dispel the myth that small market teams cannot compete in Major League Baseball. Yes, it pays to have money, but it pays to have money in other prominent sports leagues too that don't face the same kind of parity-related scrutiny which MLB does.

As I gathered evidence to support my claim, an unexpected number popped out: middle market teams in baseball are the least represented in the playoff the past five seasons. Not surprisingly, it's better to have more money, but quite surprisingly it also seems better to have less cash. I promised a follow-up post.

Here it is.

Michael Pineda's Dominance

Michael Pineda
that's a seriously long stride
I haven't written much on Michael Pineda, but it's not because I haven't noticed him. For the most part, there is enough out there on him already. It is time for a few words though.

First of all, I did not think that Pineda should have started the season in the majors, and what a travesty that would have been if I had been running the team. Clearly, Michael was ready for the majors and then some. I stand corrected, but this is one of those instances where it feels really good to be wrong.

Playoff Diversity

While I stick to writing about baseball, the NFL lockout garners much of my non-baseball attention these days. A couple weeks ago, I read this straightforward article about NFL commish Roger Goodell wishing negotiations would resume. That wasn't very surprising news, but I bet we all read newsworthy things every day that aren't all that surprising.

What caught my eye though was a side comment made by Clark Hunt, owner of the Kansas City Chiefs. Quoting the article linked to above:
Chiefs owner Clark Hunt told callers that small-market teams such as the Chiefs could be at a competitive disadvantage with big-market teams if the NFL does not adjust to the times.

For an example, Hunt needs only to watch the small-market Kansas City Royals. Unable to match the richer clubs' salary offers for top players the Royals have developed, Kansas City has been shut out of baseball's postseason since 1985.
Even though the Royals were a small sidenote in the article, it burned me to read the quick, skin-deep analysis. Yes, the Royals are a small market team, and yes, they have struggled mightily. However, I refused to believe it was all about money. It felt to me like the Royals had made too many poor decisions in the past quarter century to compete with any amount of money.

I had to put my theory to the test. How bad is it for small market MLB teams?

Minor Youth Movement Begins

Mike Wilson
Gone are Ryan Langerhans and Milton Bradley. In their places are Carlos Peguero and Mike Wilson.

Obviously, the most interesting part of all of this is that Bradley is gone, and his baseball career might very well be over. I could say something, but plenty has already been said.

Instead, I will take a look at what this means on the field. It is a puzzling pair of moves, though in the end they might not make any sort of difference.

Big League Closer

Brandon League
Brandon League (Getty images)
I didn't see this coming out of spring training.

Well, I did, sort of. We all knew that Brandon League would open up as the M's closer with David Aardsma on the shelf. What none of us knew was that he would convert his first nine save opportunities...and counting. For what it's worth, most of those have "looked" good too, meaning he didn't seem to be on the brink of destruction.

Even with League's good start, Brandon Morrow still has a WAR edge (0.6 to 0.4) in the early going this season. So, the much-questioned trade is still questionable at best. However, League has the edge in WPA (0.86 to 0.35), which he couldn't say last year with his fatty negative total.

Back to the current Mariners team. Maybe League is just hot right now, and he is bound to cool off. However, with Aardsma likely close to returning, there is no reason to mess with success.

MLB Influence Rankings

Click on the picture above to enlarge it. The file size isn't too big, but it's pixel size is quite large (just as a heads up). A full explanation on this infographic can be found here, including my methodology behind the bubble sizes and positions. If you want to compare and contrast this picture to the previous one (on April 10), it is available here.

Fixing Figgins

Chone Figgins
As I sat down to write this post, my mind was made up. It was time to finally write a post about why Chone Figgins needs to go away. He looks terrible at the plate. His offensive numbers are anemic. It already feels like there isn't a good spot for him in the batting order, and there really won't be a good place once Dustin Ackley is called up and establishes himself.

Quick aside: Ackley is struggling a bit in AAA right now, so he might be a bit farther off than I especially am willing to admit. Perhaps Ackley is a non-factor when it comes to Figgins this year.

Regardless of Dustin, it's painful to watch Chone. As a fan, watching him the past year and a month, I have the sense that this simply isn't working.

Maybe Figgins needs a change of scenery to be good again. The Mariners could hand over the hot corner to Matt Mangini or Matt Tuiasosopo and see what happens. This is a season about developing in-house talent anyway. Finding a trade partner might be difficult, but I still think someone would take a chance on Chone for a bargain bin price.

I thought the numbers would back up my view. After looking them up, I don't know what to think.