Episode 18 – Ichiro? ICHIRO! Ichiro….

In which the Mariners fulfill their role and purpose

THE MARINERS ARE SIGNING ICHIRO! Yeah, uh, well that’s not a great idea. Nathan, David, and Scott convene for an emergency broadcast to collectively roll eyes, talk about what this could portend for Jerry Dipoto, reminisce a bit, and come up with a few #fun #facts.

Want to feel great about Ichiro coming back? Awesome, by all means do so and have a great time. To a certain extent, that’s our plan too. But bringing back a 44-year old outfielder when Jon Jay gets 1 year 3 million dollars makes it pretty clear where the scales are balanced for Mariner ownership. What a pity.

(Music credits: Ben Gibbard, and some random guy I found on YouTube who I think does this as a joke. Sir if you read this and these tracks are indeed your passion/vocational aspiration, please accept my apologies)

As always, you can rate and subscribe to this here fine podcast on iTunes here. For you SoundCloud mavens, find us here. Follow the blog on Twitter @DomeandBedlam, David at @SkibaScubaShop, and Scott at @ScottyWeebs.  We are grateful for you.

Ryon Healy Out 4-6 Weeks, Which Probably Doesn’t Matter

I don’t know what I expected

Happy Pitchers and Catchers! The verse/verse/chorus of the early baseball season revolves around the core tenants of Arizona: Men stretching in sunshine OH MY GOD SUNSHINE AND WARMTH WINTER IS NOT ETERNAL, crappy cell phone pictures of men stretching in sunshine, and anxiety over players showing up to camp hurt.

The Mariners, of course the Mariners, started out 2018 with bad news on that final front, as erstwhile starting first baseman and shave ice YouTube sensation Ryon Healy popped into Peoria with the news that his hand had a bone spur.

The surgery to remove that bone spur is expected to keep Healy from doing baseball-y things for 4-6 weeks, which puts the well-coiffed lad back in game action right around if not shortly after Opening Day.

It’s a frustrating start to Spring, after a frustrating offseason, but in and of itself it doesn’t look to have much an impact on the Mariners’ season. Missing Spring Training can and will require Healy to ramp up to speed quicker than normal, and he will indeed go a long period of time without swinging a baseball bat. That’s concerning, particularly for a player who gets most of his value out of swinging that bat.

Importantly, though, Ryon Healy at peak health was never projected to be particularly good in 2018. ZiPS has him at a positively Lind-ian -0.1 fWAR, while PECOTA pegs him just shy of a win. Any overwrought reactions to Healy’s injury are born through a combination of the Mariners, largely absent any offseason moves of actual consequence, having spent the winter touting Healy as one of their major acquisitions to an increasingly and bizarrely trusting fanbase, and the fact that the depth behind Healy is Mike Ford, a 25-year old with zero MLB plate appearances, and only 25 games above AA, and Daniel Vogelbach, who is not a first baseman.

Now, Mike Ford is an intriguing pickup, and exactly the kind of potential sneaky value Dipoto has specialized in in Seattle. See Ben Gamel, Nick Vincent, and on. If you want an Applebee’s steak at Denny’s prices, Jerry Dipoto is your kind of general manager. But for a team whose best/most expensive players creak with age, going into Opening Day with Mike Ford as your starting first baseman presents an unacceptable and unreasonable risk. Ford could very well finish 2018 as a better/more exciting/more fun baseball player than Ryon Healy, but it’s important to note that the lion’s share of reason for that is because being better than Ryon Healy is not a particularly high hurdle to clear.

Spring Training now figures to be a battle between Mike Ford and Daniel Vogelbach for the starting first base spot out of camp. I would put my money on Ford, as Vogelbach’s defense continues to be, erm, not good. Importantly, and primarily, the team shows no interest in bringing in, say, Lucas Duda or Logan Morrison, available free agents with major league track records who could allow the team to build depth, something they still lack to a comical degree at almost every position.

The insistence on standing pat with the way things are will be challenged and thrown into stark relief every time a player is lost to injury. And while it’s fair to assume that won’t happen as often in 2018 as it did in 2017 make no mistake, it will happen plenty, regardless of how Dr. Lorena Martin and her admittedly interesting high performance program do this year.

For a team that has repeatedly insisted its commitment to winning, it’s hard to figure out why the Mariners don’t at least seem to be trying to find some free agent bargains a la Duda, Eduardo Nunez (how is Taylor Motter on this roster?), and etc. However, for a team that knows 2018 is largely about shuffling deck chairs while keeping up appearances, whether to cynically depress wages and maximize profits, or to position itself for a run at next year’s monstrous free agent class, it makes sense to run out a roster where losing a one-win first baseman for Spring Training stands as major news.

The Mariners are one of those two franchises, and every day we get closer and closer to knowing which one.

 

The Ball and The (Ever Moving) Stick

What do we root for, when winning means different things to different people?

(Ed’s note: WordPress is not cooperating but we would like to note that this piece is co-authored by Nathan Bishop and Matt Ellis)

During last Sunday’s Super Bowl, we were fortunate enough to share company with many old and dear friends. One of those friends brought a baseball, for reasons he could not explain when pressed. As has been the case our entire life when occupying space in close proximity to a baseball, we held it in our hand. We did so for long enough that others felt compelled to press us on why, and we confess it was for reasons that, we too, could not explain.

For every baseball player, we imagine it is variations on similar themes: At some point, somewhere as a small child a parent, sibling, friend, or relative put a ball of some kind in that child’s hand, took five or six steps back, and told them to throw. Most probably, without knowing how they knew how to do it, wound back and threw that ball with a kind of innate force and velocity that belies all instruction and training. After that, maybe it was a stick swung at a softly lobbed rolled up pair of socks. Or a toy truck at a balloon. From that tiny genesis springs forth the game’s rivers of life: Little League, travel teams, youth showcases, scholarships, academies, weighted ball training, and professional careers that earn wealth the likes of which has ruined the lives of many a Mega Millions winner.

At the beginning, though, we believe it is important to remember it was just a kid, throwing a ball, and swinging a stick.

*****

We have some thoughts on billionaires, and while we understand you probably don’t want to hear them, we hope that you will extend us that same fair share of understanding when we say we don’t really care. So here:

We do not begrudge anyone on this planet whatever form of wealth or plenty they manage to acquire during their short time in this dimension. What we do believe is that the mindset, and the actions that spring out of it, that leads to the acquisition of the kind of wealth of, say, a Carl Pohlad are almost universally not only not aligned with the fundamental, collective good of our fellow man, but diametrically opposed to it.

We believe that the primary skill of a billionaire lies in one of two areas:

  1. The exploitation of one of the great flaws of our modern age, and that is that there is more profit in the acquisition and marketing of greatness than there is in simply performing greatly.
  2. Being the child of a billionaire.

We believe that many billionaires do not think of themselves as evil, and often legitimately do not understand why the 99.9% of this world’s population’s increasing dependence on their altruism for things like health care, space exploration, and clean water is viewed as a bad thing by many. We believe Mariners’ owner John Stanton had a childhood dream of playing in the major leagues, just as we believe he truly thinks living somewhere where you run into Jeff Bezos at the grocery store, and see the founders of Microsoft playing tennis qualifies as “a fairly normal life.”

We believe that John Stanton believes this, because we believe almost all people believe themselves to be good, even if that illusion requires the insulation of gated communities, security forces, and the support of your fellow twenty-nine baseball owners as you drive your team, no, the community’s team that you profit off of, to what may very well be their seventeenth straight season without a postseason appearance.

We have many more things we believe about billionaires. We originally were going to list all of them through this section, but there is no point. The views you share on wealth and whether or not the vast preponderance of it being held by a comically small few qualifies as proof of liberty and opportunity or a hollow pyramid scheme with those same words functioning as nothing but good #branding will not be changed in any meaningful way by what we say here.

This is, largely, how we got here in the first place.

*****

In short: in an attempt to understand, and critique, the current wave of labor disputes in the MLB, it might be time to look beyond the language of “collusion.” This is not to say the owners have not engaged, or are currently not in any way engaging in collusion. The so-called Gentleman’s Agreement for one, was quite literally the definition of collusion, and the concept has been frequently invoked by the MLBPA since its founding in 1966. Clearly, it retains some analytic precision for those actually materially invested in labor struggles (i.e. those of us whose role in Major League Baseball encompasses more than swigging beer on the couch while yelling at Danny Valencia Ryon Healy).

The image of a smoke filled room inhabited by anthropomorphic pigs in top hats and monocles laughing as they devise a secret plan might have worked for early Soviet agitprop propaganda, as they traveled the post-revolutionary countryside in an attempt to distill the essence of global capitalism to the rural, heavily illiterate peasantry. But there are a number of problems with this: first, there is the fact that large swaths of the rural peasantry already kind of implicitly understood that they were being screwed, and second, that this simple yet effective image reduces the complexities of global capitalism into a problem with a clearly attainable solution: just get the dang pig and his stupid top hat!

Marx–whatever you think of him–understood capitalism to be something much more complicated: a machine, globalized. A period in material history undergoing continuous development, one which does not rely on the inherent “human nature” of agents and actors but rather through the machinations of the gears and levers which delimit all that it can, and will be able to, do.* In the first of his three-volume, ten-bazillion-page study on capitalism, Marx outlines his reading of the labor theory of value, which stands effectively in contrast to other theories of value which might sound familiar to our popular American understanding of economics.

It gets way more complicated when you bring in value in use and value in exchange, and I realize this is a baseball blog, after all so I’ll keep this brief. In short, we are fooled when we look at something we want to purchase–say a fancy, shiny car or a game-used replica Dustin Ackley jersey at the Mariners team store–and think wow that looks amazing it must be so expensive. You put a down payment on a home for the lamborghini, and shell out hundreds on the jersey because that’s just what those things are worth. But why is a game-used Dustin Ackley jersey $300 dollars? (spoiler: it isn’t).

To Marx, the value in a given commodity is indexed to the labor required for its production, including the labor required to produce the conditions under which that commodity was able to be produced in the first place (the factory where they individually packaged Northwest-Green replica #13 jerseys to sit unpurchased on the shelf, or if we will, Safeco Field itself). You can see where I’m going with this.

If we take the labor theory of value at its face, and argue that we fundamentally ignore its discovery in place of other theories of value focused on the lure of the object itself, then the historical development of contemporary market capitalism is fundamentally the reason why this labor crisis is happening. The owners don’t need to collude if the market rewards them for shedding payroll. As millionaires, Major League baseball players may be miles away from the economic realities you and I inhabit, but they nevertheless are key laborers in the production of Major League Baseball’s commodities. And not just major leaguers–the entire labor force that actually produces value for the league and owners here encompasses the minor leaguers subsiding on Top Ramen and the Robinson Canós of the world.

But a refrain of this sort has started to emerge in recent discourses about our perplexingly slow 2018 offseason. In one sense, we would argue well-meaning critiques of the league do a disservice to the real struggle which needs to be fought for the future of the game and the players which produce its value. Some have argued a player strike would damage the public face of the fight, while others have rightfully critiqued the MLBPA for its relative silence on the plight of minor leaguers. But we are lying to ourselves if we think that dealing with a class of owners who seek first and foremost to maximize profit and “balance” spreadsheets (an obvious echo here to politicians bemoaning the spiraling deficit while public institutions are rapidly privatized–one which we mostly see through arguably because baseball is more fun than congress) is one in which we can de-link the brutal exploitation of minor leaguers and the Major Leaguers whose value is being siphoned upwards more and more as this CBA marches towards its inevitable explosion in 2020. You can’t: for the death of what little power labor currently has–power which needs to grow and expand downwards to cover the minor leaguerswill irrevocably be eroded once we start calling for players to make “the right grievances,” or to stop “complaining” about arbitration. They may be millionaires, but whose interest would such tactics truly serve?

Indeed, the structure of baseball since the institutionalization of its current form around the turn of the century is one in which the labor of the players versus the interests of the owners has constantly been in struggle. And while it is true that players today, thanks to the Marvin Millers and Curt Floods in history, have been able to regain some ground in this struggle of appropriation–the market is changing itself in response to the growing threat of labor power in much the same ways political theorists such as David Harvey have noted the entire global market began changing in the 1970s when faced with similar paradigm shifts.

No, rather than conceive of this large free agent class two days before pitchers and catchers report as the result of a backroom poker game between Thomas Ricketts and Arte Moreno, we should instead look to a number of historical, economic, and indeed on-field events as key constitutive factors in producing this backlog. We all praise Billy Beane and watched the movie, perhaps even read the book. We watched as Jack Zduriencik abandoned spreadsheets with disagreeable fonts and chased right-handed power hitters, and we begged for the man to look at the new data that was frustratingly available to seemingly half the league. Hell, we all did.

At the time, the stats revolution seemed like a positive development for fringe players possessing skills that the system had deemed useless, or at the very least, inefficient. But while the popular myth of moneyball narrativizes the fight of the tight-pocketed owner versus the #disruptor GM of #innovation, we should look back on this period of history with one single, operative question: whose interest did this revolution truly serve? Indeed: moneyball emerged in part as a response to a constitutive problem of an owner refusing to give his GM more money to field a winning team. It was, in effect, a capitulation that sought band-aids rather than antibiotics.

So while we can laugh at the absurdity of Albert Pujols being paid a quarter-of-a-billion dollars to be the worst player in baseball (and to be clear, it is funny), we should also remember he was being paid $200,000 in a season in which he earned 7.1 fWAR for the St. Louis Cardinals in a decade in which he was, arguably, one of the two best baseball players on the planet. The next season, Billy Beane infamously signed Scott Hatteberg and his fucked-up elbow for $950,000 and he immediately put up a season that ranks right up with the best of Pujols’ entire tenure with the Angels. We can point to this division, and we should also ask what it means that we fans can seemingly only conceive of “value” as a metric of on-field performance in the aggregate, rather than the amount of profit each player produces for the league, their teams, and the requisite owners.

But most of all we should remember that all three of these men–Albert Pujols, Scott Hatteberg, and John Stanton–arguably spent long periods of their childhood holding baseballs like the rest of us, dreaming first as fans, tossing them back and forth into makeshift gloves with glee, or swinging sticks in the air. All three of them, arguably, love the game and each want to “win” in their own way, and each feels they have (or had) something useful to contribute to the process. But “winning,” arguably, means something very different to two of these men than the other.

The Mariners want to win. But ask yourself what that word really means.

_______________________________________________

“But all methods for the production of surplus-value are at the same time methods of accumulation; and every extension of accumulation becomes, conversely, a means for the development of those methods. It follows therefore that in proportion as capital accumulates, the situation of the worker, be his payment high or low, must grow worse.” from “The General Law of Capitalist Accumulation,” in Marx, Karl. Capital Vol 1, pp. 799.

 

Shohei Ohtani signs with LAA Angels

The worst-possible outcome has happened. Let’s think about what that means.

In what is likely the worst-possible outcome for a Seattle Mariners team hoping to compete for a wildcard spot, Shohei Ohtani announced today he will sign with the LAA Angels. Following this announcement, and assuming the transaction gets the all-clear from the MLB FO, one thing is certain, the Angels are acquiring a potentially transcendent talent at the lowest possible risk.

Shohei Ohtani has yet to face an MLB hitter or an MLB arm, but if the scouting report holds true, he is a likely top-end starter with at least an average bat. If the hype is true, the Angels may have essentially just added a second Mike Trout at the cost of pre-arb Willie Bloomquist who can pitch and hit (imagine ’98 Pedro with Frank Thomas’ power). This sort of player has never really been in the conversation before, ever, in the MLB.

A million articles will be written about this move over the next few days and weeks and months, less about the impact on the Mariners, but let’s touch on this briefly. Ohtani arriving with an ALW rival is the worst-possible outcome for the Seattle Mariners in their current build. The M’s need pitching bad, needed the West to get worse, and need to spend all sorts of money in an inflated pitching market. This plays directly against their hand and in likely the largest way possible for a playoff appearance in 2018 and even worse in ’19.

The time has come to start to consider the current window shut and while Dipoto likely will not, and it is not the ONLY way out, the current MLB roster needs to be seriously evaluated for what other organizations may want in exchange for bolstering Seattle’s farm. Use the newly acquired international slot money to find the next generation of Mariners. It’s time to sell.

The new era of the Seattle Mariners should begin today, and while it isn’t the one we wanted, it’s the one we have.

 

Mariners acquire Dee Gordon, Ohtani Bucks

There. The stove is on. Are you happy?

As the holy scriptures say, shooters shoot. While at times he resembles me during the last five seconds of pop-a-shot at the local arcade, Jerry Dipoto’s time as General Manager of the Seattle Mariners has had one constant: A total lack of fear.

Here’s the trade, as it was announced: The Mariners are (from what I have heard) trading Nick Niedert, one of the very few arms in the minor leagues with anything remotely resembling major league potential, and two other as of yet unnamed minor leaguers for Marlins 2B Dee Gordon.

Now, wait. Second baseman Dee Gordon?!? The Mariners have a second baseman. He’s pretty good! Well, yeah, this is pretty crazy. Dee Gordon has appeared in 685 games in the field in his major league career. Every single one of them has been at 2B or SS. But from what I’ve been told the Mariners are going to try and convert him to centerfield. It’s a huge risk, and its outcome is impossible to predict.

I’m not going to try and forecast Gordon’s performance as a centerfielder here. Position changes, particularly mid-career are fraught with peril and unknowns. For now I’ll simply point out that one of the most important aspects of good outfield play is foot speed, and only three players in baseball ranked higher than Dee Gordon in raw foot speed last year. Not coincidentally, all three derive a large portion of their value from excellent outfield defense. Dee Gordon is one of the fastest baseball players alive and, while a huge unknown, the raw ingredients for a quality major league centerfielder should be there. Hopefully he’s aware of the situation, and amenable to it, because with Robinson Cano and Jean Segura locking down 2B/SS for the ~$38 million remaining on Gordon’s contract through 2020, there’s nowhere in this infield to put him.

It’s a risk, a big risk, but one with big upside both in on field performance, and potential savings. The Mariners had no realistic replacement for Jarrod Dyson coming into 2018. Without him the last two months of 2017 saw the outfield, as a whole, collapse. Mitch Haniger is an exciting player, who can play center in a pinch, but he should never be an everyday player there. Gordon’s speed allows for the possibility of not only another year with a plus glove in center, but without the financial outlay needed for a premium FA a la Lorenzo Cain. This, theoretically, allows the team the financial flexibility to spend liberally to fill other needs like STARTING PITCHING GET STARTING PITCHING JERRY DO IT.

The second, and potentially even more consequential portion of this trade is the addition of still more international slot money to dump on top of the head of Shohei Ohtani. Combined with the $1 million received from the Twins last night, in exchange for C David Banuelos, the Mariners have almost doubled the amount of money they can pay Ohtani. As of this second, that amount (roughly $3.6 million) is more than any other team.

No one, and I mean no one seems to have any idea what Ohtani is thinking, or what his priorities are. While an optimistic reading of this trade would be that Ohtani had agreed to come to Seattle pending them freeing up enough money to satisfy him, I’ve heard from sources that confirm something like that, and sources that claim that’s not the case. Like I said, no one knows a thing with certainty here.

However, this deal wouldn’t be made if the Mariners didn’t feel they were at least one of the “finalists of the finalists”. From, again, SOURCE, the Mariners left their meeting with Ohtani feeling confident in their ability to sway him. If an extra $1 million up front was what was needed to cement the agreement, and Ohtani does indeed come to Seattle, then this trade is a no questions asked win of the highest order for the franchise.

Should they eventually miss out, it’s going to suck. However, Dee Gordon successfully converting into a centerfielder should hypothetically allow the Mariners the flexibility to trade for as much talent as they gave up to acquire him, if It All Goes Wrong.

The farm is further decimated, but it was already decimated. While continuing to gut your future for a few seasons of Dee Gordon is a questionable move, Shohei Ohtani may have more WAR in his rookie year than every member of the Mariners farm does for their career. Combined. He is the rare commodity worth the risk, and despite my long held preference for a total rebuild, this is a path I can get behind. Hall of Fame talent is Hall of Fame talent.

It was clear before, but this makes it even more so: The Seattle Mariners are going for it in 2018. The addition of Dee Gordon and (cross fingers) Shohei Ohtani changes the face of the franchise moving forward. Additionally, the team should still theoretically have the payroll space to add another starting pitcher. It allows us to dream, and that is all we’ve ever really wanted.

 

An Offseason Plan: The Road Goes Ever On

All we have to decide is what to do with the team that is given us

In the introduction to this three-part series I stated that the Mariners are “at a crossroads.” The MLB roster is too old, expensive, and declining to reap the prospect harvest necessary for a quick rebuild. There’s also not quite enough talent on hand to realistically compete for a 2018 playoff spot without further, massive financial commitment from ownership.

The first two parts of this series set out to examine high-reaching paths on the outer edges of possibility. I said it in those posts but I’ll say it again, for emphasis: The Mariners are not committing to a full rebuild prior to 2019 at the earliest, and they aren’t blowing payroll out beyond the luxury tax , as their recent acquisition of High Prince of Whelm Ryon Healy can attest. Between these two extreme routes lies the deep, wide valley of realistic possibility. This post’s purpose is to venture down into that valley, and see what we find.

I’m going to break up the previous pattern of this series to look first at what I think Jerry Dipoto’s vision for this offseason may entail, at least the major beats, before humbly offering my own vision for a realistic 2018 roster. The response to this series has been very positive, and for those of you who stick with us during our dry spells, and offer encouragement for our little blog, know you have my deep, deep appreciation. Having people engage your writing, especially on a topic I love as much as baseball, is a dream come true for me personally.

Ok, gratefulness and framework out of the way. Onward.

Dipoto-620

The Presumed Dipoto Plan

Jerry Dipoto is not a dumb man, and he does not run a bad Major League front office. Whatever Dipoto’s public face and stated beliefs are, he almost certainly is much, much more attuned to the precarious situation he and the roster find themselves heading into 2018 than I am. I’m sure he falls asleep every night fantasizing about a $250 million dollar payroll that allows him to scoop up every needed free agent around, but he knows that won’t happen. Realistically, the Mariners headed into this offseason with two glaringly obvious opportunities to improve, and one lesser one: Starting pitching, first base, and center field.

Acquiring the middling but cheap Ryon Healy makes it clear that Dipoto has set his sites on starting pitching, and the recent trading of Thyago Veiera for international slot money further makes clear what the long-presumed number one priority of the Mariners’ winter is:

Sign RHP Shohei Othani. Somehow. Someway.

I won’t bother going into the details of Ohtani here. If you’re reading this you know all about him. He’s Japan’s Babe Ruth, but the cool hipster Boston Red Sox Babe Ruth; swatting dingers and hanging out in the outfield on the days he’s not breathing hellfire 60’6″ from home plate. While it’s almost certain that Othani could never live up to the hype surrounding him, his age (23) coupled with the absurdly low cost to acquire and pay for his first few years in MLB makes him the dream acquisition of the offseason for many teams.

It’s hard to overstate how important acquiring Ohtani is to the Mariners assembling a playoff contending roster for 2018. If he’s 80-90% of the hype then the team has acquired a legitimate number two starting pitcher for relative peanuts, not just for next year but years afterwards. Should he be allowed to hit as well? The team has little to no place to put him, and the injury risk and lack of recent precedent makes it logistically an unwise, and unlikely idea. However, if Ohtani can be swayed by promises of even 5-10 PA a week then the Mariners are not in a position to be picky. You can’t pay him what he’s worth, but you can give him what he wants. You have to. Nothing else about this offseason works without him. If you must, let Ohtani hit.

Sign RHP Yu Darvish to a 6 year, $175 million dollar contract

The sole cross-alignment of my “spend to the hilt” plan and here, I think the Mariners have every intention of making a huge offer to the enormously talented right-hander.

Unless a team is capable of re-capturing the magic of last decade’s Rays, a low-budget model that has had less and less success as the analytical playing field has evened over time, massive contracts in baseball are simply part of doing business. While I’m sure Mariner ownership would prefer to wait until the Nelson Cruz and Felix Hernandez contracts are fully off the books before making another huge commitment, the contention window demands action now. Darvish’s age (31) and spotty injury history are a concern, but he has top 3-5 in all of baseball stuff, and can dominate a game in ways few can.

Put together, a rotation of Darvish-Paxton-Ohtani-Leake-Hernandez has the makings of the best in the division, and the best in franchise history. It turns a huge organizational weakness into a massive asset. It’s a table flipping, landscape altering pair of moves.

Timing of these two acquisitions is crucial, and may be very difficult. Acquiring Darvish without also acquiring Ohtani is simply a half-measure; an exciting but insufficient improvement. If Ohtani signs with another team, I would encourage and expect Dipoto to steer clear of the sort of contract that Darvish will command. Of course signing Darvish early may, may just be the tipping point to convincing Ohtani to come to Seattle. It’s an impossible quandary. Don’t you wish you were a major league general manager?

Add OF depth

This fucking guy

I was tempted to repeat “re-sign Jarrod Dyson” here, but given that Dyson is almost certainly seeking top dollar for his last realistic major payday I’m concerned that the Mariners will simply not have the money to retain the speedy center fielder.

While Jerry Dipoto is talking about Mitch Haniger being the team’s every day center fielder on Opening Day, that not only feels like a miscasting of the promising Haniger’s skillset, but fails to take into account his thus far fragile health. The team needs a center fielder, and Braden Bishop, fun though he his, isn’t a part of a contending team in 2018. Realistically this feels like a classic Dipoto Trade situation, although I remain hopeful that a fully-recovered Guillermo Heredia can provide enough with his bat to be an asset at the position.

Should the team fail to acquire Darvish or another, comparably high-priced starting pitcher, the idea of shifting the money to Lorenzo Cain, to potentially lock down center in a way the team hasn’t had since Mike Cameron is a very realistic one. Either way, bolstering the outfield is necessary.

***

There are dozens of other possibilities and permutations to the ones I’ve outlined above. (As we speak Dipoto is currently roaming the streets of Mercer Island, trading a handful change for its equivalent in various foreign currencies. They’re just so different and new and, and, and shiny, you see.) There’s no firmly pinning down a manic entity like Jerry Dipoto. But for better or worse the 2018 roster is largely set. There are only so many things he can do without drastically altering the franchise, and he has shown no interest in doing that in his time as Mariner GM. He has been building TO this moment, not trying to avoid it, and I don’t expect him to alter course now.

Dan 2

Nathan Bishop, Seattle Mariner General Manager

For the Mariners to make the playoffs in 2018 many things will have to go right, and the potential downside to another expensive failure are massive. I’ve hammered on this but I’ll repeat it: The Mariners, heading into year three of Jerry Dipoto’s regime, still have arguably a bottom five farm system in the game. They will, at some point, need to address this with painful sacrifices, be it international bonuses, trading from the major league roster, or most likely a combination of the two.

Rather than commit to another massive contract to Yu Darvish, and make the inevitable rebuild even more challenging and difficult, an attempt at constructing a reliever heavy, potentially off-loadable roster that retains a modicum of upside may represent the wisest path forward. Rather than drastically alter course, or double down, the most advisable course of action is for the Mariners to let their current hand ride, give or take a few minor additions. As such:

Sign Shohei Ohtani

For all the reasons I stated above. Ohtani costs, in major league terms, nothing, and his age potentially helps lay the foundational keystone for the next great Mariners team. Nothing about this changes. He is the fulcrum of the entire offseason, but in this scenario failing to acquire him (a very, very realistic possibility) is endurable.

Sign RHP Brandon Morrow to a 2 year, $14 million dollar deal

I am, admittedly, very uncomfortable trying to anticipate the reliever market, and hohohoho does this name bring back some memories, but here we are.

The idea, loosely, is to replicate the 2014 Bullpen of Death that helped an otherwise mediocre roster get within a game of the wild card. The Mariners bullpen, 2017 performance aside, is underratedly filled with potentially lethal relievers. In Edwin Diaz, David Phelps, Dan Altavilla, James Pazos, and Nick Vincent, Seattle has a collection of arms you can squint and see having a great 2018, whether from recent track record or high velocity potential.

Depending on a bullpen to carry a team is needing a 17+ on a D20 saving throw, but the potential upside allows the team to keep its flexibility while helping relieve the pressure on what would, even with Ohtani, be a thin, injury prone, and average-ish starting rotation.

Brandon Morrow was nothing short of excellent with the Dodgers in 2017, and while a multi-year deal for relievers is generally considered a no-no, his high velocity stuff allows for visions of the Mariners locking down practically all games they lead after five with a succession of pitchers throwing 97+ MPH fastballs. Imagine the 2017 Yankees, but minus Aaron Judge. And Gary Sanchez. Ugh, I hate the Yankees.

Various Jerry Dipoto Style Acquisitions

Honestly, I’m not going to bother trying to lay this out. The team needs to churn a few spots; backup catcher, INF depth, OF depth. Depth. You get the idea. This is where Jerry thrives and I have no doubt he can figure a way to get fungible talent for 97 cents on the dollar while rounding out the roster.

The Rationale

While ticking every box of the Dipoto Plan above makes the Mariners a legitimate playoff contender, the one thing we all want, the likelihood of it happening is, um, not high. The Mariners need to attract two of the five or so most desirable available talents, and arguably the top two pitchers, to come to Seattle. This in a market where other teams looking for the same talent include, but are not limited to, the Cubs and Dodgers, two of baseball’s premiere organizations. It’s a huge challenge facing Dipoto.

In lieu of that unlikely outcome building the bullpen allows for a limit in financial commitment, while offsetting the team’s rotation, which would be still the weakest part of this roster. Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager will need to regain their 2016 form, and Mike Zunino will need to hold onto his 2017 gains. Mitch Haniger will need to stay healthy, and James Paxton and Felix Hernandez need to limit their missed starts.

A lot needs to go right, but the same can be said for all but the very best, most expensive, deepest rosters. While the chances are maybe 1 in 5 or so, a roster like this has potential 90-win upside, something that hasn’t happened in Seattle since 2003.

In the relatively likely case that injury, age, and under-performance conspire with the Astros to make 2018 another lost season, a bullpen-heavy roster with no new longterm commitments still allows the team the flexability to sell, should they see it as prudent. I do not have data to back this up but I would argue that no position sees its value bubble at the trade deadline more than quality bullpen arms. Nothing about this plan keeps another middling Mariner team from trading James Paxton, Edwin Diaz, David Phelps, even Kyle Seager, and kicking off the long-looming rebuild.

I admit I find the plan, to be blunt, annoying. The Mariners seemingly are willing to spend through the nose to avoid being truly terrible, but never seem able to endure the commitment necessary to build something truly great. Having 75-85 win talent year after year after year is an exhausting experience. I am ready for change, be it spending what is necessary for excellence, or enduring the losing necessary to build a farm capable of same. However, the reality is the Mariners as an organization are simply not ready to walk down either path for 2018.

Headed into the last year of his contract I have little doubt that Jerry Dipoto is operating under a playoffs or bust mandate, but without the financial flexibility to maximize those odds. As such, I advise he swing for the moon on a potential generational acquisition in Shohei Ohtani, and otherwise build around the possibility of a deadly, high-heat bullpen, and let it ride. With some good fortune, it may just work, and there’s no franchise more overdue for some good fortune than your Seattle Mariners.

Pax Happy 2

 

 

 

An Offseason Plan: Paying the Price

Push in those chips

“I think it has been difficult for us to make clear that our No. 1 objective is to get this team into the World Series,” he says.

-Howard Lincoln – Mariners CEO December 12, 2004

(Part I of this series is found here)

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the unfairness of history. The judgments of our actions and our character are never enough on their own merit. All our words and actions seem to do is provide another data point for historians to compare us to other, better, more accomplished people.

In our living days we exist within the daily inheritance left us by our forebearers. People learn, and they remember. Whatever titles, responsibilities, or privileges we accrue through time we wear as mantle, laden by the words and deeds of all those who shared those accolades throughout time. It’s a lot more than one human can counteract on their own.

“The goal has always been to go to the World Series,”

Chuck Armstrong – Mariners President, January 23rd, 2014

It’s not fair to compare John Stanton and Howard Lincoln, Pat Gillick and Jerry Dipoto. In 2002, when Lincoln and Lou Piniella were getting in shouting matches at the trade deadline, Dipoto was in his first year in a front office, working with Dan O’Dowd in Denver. Populist rabble-rousing instinct is to label Stanton as just another billionaire suit, but to do so risks falling into much of the diminishing thought and language so easily found in our present times.

John Ellis

The Mariners’ current leadership has, in the grand measure of it, very little connection to its past. But telling fans not to draw that connection is an impossible task. When the Mariners lost in 2005, and 2006, and 1985, and 1998, and 1979, and on and on and on the current executives weren’t here. But we were.

We Mariners fans have lived through Carl Everett, and Carlos Silva. We have endured 2010, and Bill Plummer. We have witnessed the wasting away of the career of Felix Hernandez, of a core of inner circle hall of famers that couldn’t even make it to a World Series.

It’s not fair that we hold the sins of previous front offices against the current one. But it’s not fair we have spent four decades of fandom and support with zero World Series appearances, and the sport’s longest playoff drought to show for it. Maybe when there’s unfairness for everyone, there’s fairness for all.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Cleveland Indians

The Plan

With all early indications this offseason the Mariners will attempt to make 2018 a contending season, simply rounding out the fringes of the roster will not do. 2014-2017 represents the window of opportunity for the core of Kyle Seager, Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, and (starting in 2015) Nelson Cruz to push this team to the postseason. Counting on those four at their current ages and coming off 2017 production levels to drive a 90+ win team is foolish wishcasting. The team needs additions, and core ones.

Most obviously the starting rotation, despite encouraging Septembers from trade acquisitions Erasmo Ramirez and Mike Leake, is in desperate need. While one can hope that Jerry Dipoto’s ceaseless back-end rotation arm churn turns up the next Charlie Morton, planning on it is, again, foolish. As such:

Sign RHP Yu Darvish to a 6 year, $175 million dollar contract

The 31-year old Darvish is, in many ways, a right-handed James Paxton. Featuring plus-plus stuff, a checkered injury history, and the ability to dominate and disappoint in equal measure, Darvish represents the clearest and most direct path to acquire another ace-like talent. His age and aforementioned injury history makes a huge, long term contract a difficult one to commit to, but this is the cost of attempting to contend without any help from your own minor league system. Darvish’s peak is as high as any pitcher in the game. He is a foundational, landscape-altering acquisition for 2018.

Acquire RHP Shohei Otani

Otani’s posting is filled with unknowns. I’ve written about this already, but no one knows exactly why he may choose to forego $100+ million to come to MLB now, rather than wait for unrestricted free agency in two years, when he would still only be 25. What we do know is that his talent, and the initially low financial cost to acquire represents an opportunity that all 30 major league franchises should be interested in pursuing. It’s going to take a recruiting push that would make an SEC football program blush, but if the Mariners could land him a top three of Paxton-Darvish-Otani would anchor probably the best, and deepest rotation in franchise history.

Sign 1B/DH Carlos Santana to a 4 year, $68 million dollar contract

In the real world of budgets signing Santana, or any position player, to this kind of contract probably puts the Mariners completely out on acquiring an ace pitcher through free agency; but this plan is about being “all-in”, and acquiring Santana’s bat in addition to the above moves would indeed be a Parade at Edgar and Dave kind of acquisition. Santana’s excellent plate discipline, and switch-hitting more than compensates for a so-so glove at first base, and moving beyond next year, he can easily transition to DH to replace Nelson Cruz once his contract expires.

Re-sign CF Jarrod Dyson to a 2 year, $20 million dollar contract 

Baseball writing has a fun way of making you look dumb. This past summer I wrote that the Guillermo Heredia, Ben Gamel, and Mitch Haniger outfield looked like one ready to lead this franchise forward. Well, Heredia collapsed, Gamel’s BABIP regression could reveal him as nothing more than a fringe major leaguer, and Haniger needs to show the ability to stay healthy and productive.

Dyson’s bat is far from an asset, but coupled with baserunning and exceptional centerfield defense he is a very useful player, and at a position the Mariners have suddenly, and once again, very little depth.

While other moves will clearly need to be done (hello Kirk Nieuwenhuis!) to round out the roster, Jerry Dipoto has shown finding slightly below average roster filler is not a problem for him. None of these acquisitions prevent Dipoto’s maniacal churning from pressing onward, ever onward, ceaselessly beating away at the mania of inactivity.

Otani2

The 2018 Outlook

The addition of three all-star level talents realistically adds somewhere between 8-12 wins to the 2018 Mariners. If you feel like 2017’s 78 wins was a bit below the team’s true talent then it would appear this is a roster capable of producing only the franchise’s sixth 90-win team in forty-one years.

Even with these acquisitions, however, significant risk remains. The overall organizational lack of depth will put this team on a tight rope for the entire season. Mike Zunino’s breakout needs to hold, Jean Segura, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and James Paxton need to remain healthy and productive, and the Edwin Diaz Coin needs to land on heads a fair amount of the time.

Without compelling, young talent above the high minors any holes in the roster will be difficult to fill at the trade deadline. Any significant time missed by any of the team’s stars will lead to a glaring loss of production. Even after hypothetically winning the offseason in a way that no Mariner team has ever done, this still stands as a very rickety, rapidly aging, top-heavy organization.

Still, this would stand as one of the most talented rosters the Mariners have ever assembled, and certainly the most talented since the 2003 team won 93 games. At their best they are absolutely a pennant and World Series contender.* That’s something we all want, and something that has recently felt very, very far away.

*Also, did we mention the payroll? It’s going to require an astronomical commitment from the Mariners’ ownership; we’re talking $200 million, luxury-tax approaching, Dodgers/Yankees/Red Sox/Cubs levels of spending to assemble this roster. Just consider it a Fan Tax guys, part of our win-redistribution program for all these decades of bumbling around.

The Rationale

“The fact that there are comments about this ownership and leadership group not caring about winning, but caring about making money, it’s patently false,”

-John Stanton – Mariners CEO, November 4th, 2016

The Mariners, as a franchise, are excellence-averse. In their 40 years of existence they have won 90 or more games only five times. Four of those were consecutively achieved from 2000-2003, literally the only period of time the Mariners resembled anything close to a “good” organization.

John Stanton

Many, many times many, many men have assured us that the Mariners primary goal is to make it to a World Series. But over the long arc of history results matter more than words. The fact is that too often the Mariners have come into a season with a best case scenario of simply squeaking into a Wild Card spot, a level of achievement that in some franchises gets the manager fired.

The team has made it clear they have no intention of rebuilding through the acquisition of young talent, my preferred path to building a consistent winner. As such, with the farm system unlikely to produce a star-level major leaguer prior to 2020 at the earliest, the only way up is by digging down into the pocketbook and signing the talent necessary to show us that, indeed, winning at the highest level is the burning, first priority of the entire franchise.

If ownership is unwilling to show the patience, planning, and competence to build a sustainable winner, then winning now through maniacal spending is the fastest and surest route to success. I’ve often wondered how I’d have felt about being a fan of the 1997 Marlins, who maxed out payroll for an aging roster of stars, only to sell them all off before the rings were even handed out, but I’m willing to give it a try.

If ownership does not spend as necessary, or put a rebuild plan into place soon in a manner that shows clear vision and action for the short and medium term, the next time John Stanton gives an interview and claims the World Series to be this franchise’s driving ambition will be weighed against all the times we’ve heard that before, and the final judgment will not be kind. But it will be fair.