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Eighty Five Ballots Say Plenty

This morning I ran across a cool post called the Hall of Fame ballot collecting gizmo. It's simply an amalgamation of Hall of Fame ballots that have been made public. There are 85 as of the time I write this post (and the gizmo updates frequently).

I could debate who should or should not be in, but instead I'd rather offers some cold, hard facts to wrap up 2013. It turns out that we can figure out quite a bit from only the 85 ballots the gizmo has so far. The data already suggests a couple surprises to me at least.

Masahiro Tanaka's Value

Masahiro Tanaka is coming to the states and promises to get the biggest free agent contract of any pitcher this offseason. Some of his value has to do with how young he is (just 25 years old on opening day), and more has to do with how good he has been in Japan.

How good will he be in the majors though? Time will tell, but teams have to take a crack at a valuation of him right now.

This post is my crack at figuring out what Tanaka is worth.

2014 Hall of Fame Ballot

I have the pleasure of casting an unofficial Hall of Fame vote through the Baseball Bloggers Association. I look forward to seeing who bloggers would put in the hall this year. For the record, the BBA would have actually inducted someone last year (Jeff Bagwell), unlike the BBWAA.

Before revealing my ballot, I should say a few words about how I think about Hall of Fame voting. Everyone has their own twist on the Hall of Fame, which is why voting generates such heated and interesting debate. You deserve to know my own views.

First and foremost, I see the Hall of Fame as the physical manifestation of Major League Baseball's ongoing narrative. It should capture what it means to experience the game at its best through every generation. This view has some significant implications on this year's ballot:

  • Steroid users should enter the Hall of Fame. Steroids were a part of a whole generation of the game at the turn of the millennium. The Hall of Fame should capture the best of every generation, regardless of how good or bad the generation was. I wouldn't say that I want to celebrate PED use, but letting steroid users in the hall is necessary to treasure the best the 1990s and 2000s had to offer. PEDs tarnished the generation, but rendering all accomplishments and memories for an entire time period meaningless is excessive.
  • Designated hitters should also be in the Hall of Fame. The DH isn't an experiment anymore. It's been around for 40 years now. Like it or not, the DH is part of the game, so it demands some recognition in the Hall of Fame. It is part of MLB's narrative.
  • Narratives are about more than performance. The best players tend to produce the best the game has to offer, but there is some wiggle room in my view. The absolute greatest of all-time transcend no matter what context they played in. However, the interesting Hall of Fame cases involve the tier of players below GOAT status. I'd rather enshrine a borderline player who contributed to some larger piece of MLB's narrative than a player who did not. This makes my Hall of Fame a bit less scientific, but welcome to reality. The best moments tend to be a combination of skill and good fortune. I'm okay with a Hall of Fame that embraces that reality.

Without further ado, my selections this year.

Please, Mariners, Use the Cash You Have

I generally enjoy Keith Olbermann now that he's back in sports, thanks to his vicious (but justified) commentary on a regular basis. The vicious style doesn't feel so good when it's directed at the Mariners though. Here's what he had to say about Chuck Armstrong and Howard Lincoln last night:

Ouch. It hurts in large part because Olbermann speaks the truth.

The Mariners have about $68.3 million in payroll commitments for 2014 as of right now. That figure will go up once the Smoak, Saunders, and Logan Morrison arbitration cases are figured out, but all of them are in their first years eligible. Let's say that they make $10 million total between them. Let's also assume that both Corey Hart and Franklin Gutierrez reach all of their incentives. That's another $10 million or so. That brings the payroll to around $88-90 million.

I guess, theoretically, that's why the Mariners say their payroll is about spent. They had an $84 million team last season, though apparently budgeted $95 million. If the Mariners want to pinch back the payroll a bit further because of sagging attendance and assume all possible extra payments happen, then perhaps they've hit their limit. It would be a very conservative approach to payroll budgeting.

You know what isn't conservative though? Spending $240 million on Robinson Cano. I really hope the Mariners are simply posturing to gain some bargaining leverage with free agents. The front office has used this tired line of "extra money available for the right player" for years now. It would seem to me that Robinson Cano is the "right player," and intelligent budgeting at this point would suggest that the Mariners should extend the payroll some more - so that, you know, Cano's massive deal has a chance of working. The team already has the exception under contract that justifies deeper pockets!

The Mariners stopped being fiscally conservative the instant they inked Cano. Their window of opportunity needs to be now. Cano isn't getting any younger. Neither is Felix. Young guys like Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Brad Miller, and Mike Zunino aren't as good as they will be (hopefully), but they are also only going to be league-minimum cheap for the next 2-3 years. It is painfully obvious that the Mariners would be wise to overextend RIGHT NOW, because this is when they will get their best bang for the buck with the roster they have.

At the absolute least, I would hope that the Mariners see the $10 million they saved last year as money they can tack on to this year's payroll. I would also hope that they consider Hart and Guti's incentives as non-factors; if they reach those incentives, the team is better and likely earning more money. Just looking at the budget with those two tweaks opens up $20 million to spend. Pretty much anyone still available (with the possible exception of Shin-Soo Choo) can be signed, or fit within the budget, with that kind of cash. I wouldn't even consider that outlook very aggressive. I see room to be much more aggressive, particularly with the regional sports network revenue just around the corner, and the new MLB national deal that doubles payouts to each team starting this year.

The Mariners better still have payroll room. They are in the midst of their latest tactical blunder if they don't. They really are the worst if they opened up their pockets for Robinson Cano and then shut them again, leaving Jack Zduriencik to scrounge for pennies behind the couch.

The Hot Mess At The Top

I am guessing that, by now, if you read this blog you have read Geoff Baker's investigative report into the Mariners front office. It reads somewhere between therapeutic and sobering for Mariners fans. Therapeutic to put words and quotes to many of the common grumblings around the the M's leadership from fans. Sobering sure seems like the team is a hot mess with no end in sight, despite Robinson Cano signing (or perhaps confirmed by the 10-year, $240 million contract).

Baker sheds a critical eye toward the Mariners, to say the least. Could the truth be as bad as Baker portrays in his article?

Rule 5 Draft: Moranimal Gets His Chance

If you are a die-hard reader of the Musings, you may or may not have noticed that I wrote about Brian Moran from time-to-time. Truth is, I love the guy, and will never understand why the Mariners never gave him a chance. He mostly tore up the minor leagues, maybe on smoke-and-mirrors, but he more or less destroyed hitters. I loved watching Moran in Tacoma. He was a pitcher - constantly evading bats with a bit of a funky wind-up, a mid-80s fastball, and slurvy breaking stuff. I also saw hitters hammer Moran pitches when they guessed right, but the guesses were few and far between.

Watching Moran pitch reminded me a bit of Jamie Moyer from a decade ago - it just seemed like Moran should be hit harder than he gets hit. There's something electric about watching a phenomenal arm like Taijuan Walker toy with inferior talent - but on the other end, there is something charming about watching a guy like Moran fool guys with stuff that seems like an approximation of the slop you or I would throw at the plate. Maybe that is the real magic of Moran - his way of pitching seems so approachable and tangible, in a way most professional pitching is not.

Brian Moran is now Angels property, via the Blue Jays, thanks to the Rule 5 draft conducted today. The Rule 5 draft is a chance for teams to comb over players left off of 40-man rosters that are three years removed from their draft class, or five years removed from signing as international free agents. The intent of the draft is to give polished players a chance to make the majors if they are stuck behind a glut of other players in an organization. Brian Moran is the perfect example of this. He stayed buried behind the likes of Charlie Furbush, Oliver Perez, and even Bobby LaFramboise. The Mariners decided they only needed so many bullpen lefties on the 40-man roster, which might be a smart decision.

Still, at the end of the day, Moran was one of nine players picked in the MLB phase of the Rule 5 draft. The Mariners are a team that's lacked talent for several years, as evidenced by all the losses they have piled up. They shouldn't have the kind of loaded roster that produces excess players that other teams covet. Yet here they are, a franchise that had one of nine players plucked away, by a division rival no less.

I get that there's a non-zero chance Moran's deceptive style doesn't fool MLB hitters at all. He could get tattooed. What irks me is that the Mariners never found out for themselves. They had more than enough lost games in lost seasons the past few years to take a gander. Brian Moran earned his chance. He might not make it out of spring training with the Angels, but I'd say he's more likely to make the team and make some appearances. I guess, as a fan, I'm in a win-win situation - he either gets drilled and helps the Angels lose, or does well so all of us Moranimal fans can say to the Mariners "I told you so!"

Here are quick looks at the other MLB Rule 5 picks, plus one minor league pick of local (and national) note:

Mariners Sign Hart, Acquire Morrison

This year's winter meetings were very slow. The Mariners turned out to be one of the most active teams, thanks to a pair of deals today. I don't have much time to write, and thought I would touch on Geoff Baker's damning report before anything else Mariners, but the M's are just doing too much too fast right now for me to keep up. So I'll stay focused on today's moves.

Mariners sign Corey Hart to the Mike Napoli deal - Hart has a one-year deal with a $6 million base that can jack up to $13 million with incentives. It's very similar to what Mike Napoli signed with the Red Sox last year. Hart is a mediocre contact hitter with limited on-base skills, but he's got real good power. Perhaps that sounds like Mike Morse all over again, but Hart has a longer track record of success and didn't cost John Jaso.* Instead, Hart costs money, which might now grow on trees with the Root sports acquisition. I'm a big fan of the Corey Hart deal, particularly with the way it is structured. If Hart hits dingers he gets paid, and he should get paid if he can jack the ball out of Safeco.

*Jaso admittedly had his own deficiencies as a player, but was the M's best hitter the lone season he was with them. The Mariners actually had the audacity to say they traded Jaso in an effort to improve the offense. They really, honestly believed that.

Mariners trade Carter Capps for Logan Morrison - In general I'm okay with this deal too. Capps has a great arm and supposedly some really bad luck. His home run rate seems unsustainable. However, he's also a young player that throws a ton of fastballs in most counts with somewhat limited command. Capps could figure a few things out and become very, very good. He could also stay a flame-thrower without much further growth. In return, the Mariners get a former top hitting prospect - former because, quite franky, LoMo hasn't done a ton of hitting the last few seasons. That's thanks in part to a few knee operations. His knee is apparently healthy, and hopefully that's true. I also hope the knee zapped some of Morrison's power. He is a bit of a reclamation project, though still young. Ultimately, the M's had bullpen depth and I will take a hitter with upside over a reliever with upside.

The Hart and LoMo deals together worry me though. Both Hart and Morrison have outfield experience, but neither should play in the outfield. They might both be best at DH, and play first base if they must take the field. That's where they compete with Justin Smoak as well. There should be 1,200-1,400 plate appearances between both first base and DH, so splitting the time three ways might not be so bad. There are enough plate appearances to go around, particularly because I'm not sold on either Smoak or Morrison as an everyday player at the moment.

These are the Mariners though, and they deployed such "defenders" as Michael Morse, Raul Ibanez, and Jason Bay in the outfield last season. I doubt they'll have any qualms placing Morrison or Hart in the outfield, in the process taking away a good portion of their value. It would be very Mariners of them and also would explain why they are reportedly turning down teams asking about Smoak.

All I'll say is that the Mariners better not be done. It doesn't look like they will go after Shin-Soo Choo simply because he is left-handed, which is a shame. Nick Franklin is supposedly going to be a utility player, which again, would be a shame. Hopefully they are doing some bluffing to try to build leverage for some trades. A starting pitcher and center fielder would be nice.

2014 Offseason Plan: The Cano Variant

I made an offseason plan when the offseason began, but it is obsolete with the Robinson Cano signing. I predicted the Mariners would need to add somewhere around 18 WAR to contend for a Wild Card spot. I looked for players that might be interested in the team, and didn't worry about the budget because I figured the Mariners would struggle to find players who would take the cash.

The picture looks much different with Cano in the fold. I'd say the Mariners should shoot more to acquire 25 WAR (with Cano included), and the budget should swell to meet the demands. The roster's best days are no longer ahead of them. Cano is as good as he will ever be right now, and his contract probably won't age well. Moreover, the Mariners have some young talents (like Kyle Seager and Brad Miller) who are as cheap as they will ever be right now, and are good enough to fill some starting slots. Therefore, it now makes sense to go gangbusters.

So how do the Mariners add 25 wins?

Cano Says Yes

New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of
There's nothin' you can't do
Now you're in New York
These streets will make you feel brand new
Big lights will inspire you
Let's hear it for New York, New York,
New York
-Chorus from "Empire State of Mind"

Here's what you can't do in New York: Get $240 million, at least if you are Robinson Cano. But Cano can get that kind of cash in Seattle.