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.

An Offseason Plan: Vengeance for Bedard

The case for rebuilding

The Mariners are at a crossroads. They are too old and too financially over-committed to make a decision to rebuild an easy one. The Astros appear to have annexed the next handful of season’s worth of AL West titles, but the Wild Cards offer the most success-starved of all baseball franchises, our Seattle Mariners, a prayer at contention.

Still, the team’s best players, both by the numbers and the heart, are all at the age where players get worse, not better. The farm system, while not wholly devoid of talent, appears woefully incapable of providing the core replacements needed for Kyle Seager, Robinson Cano, and Nelson Cruz. A rebuild is coming, and it is coming before the major league roster will be ready to endure it without a significant increase in losses.

With the near certainty of lean times ahead it’s understandable that the current front office (one reportedly in the last year of its contract) would eye 2018 as the last competitive Mariners team in some time, cut the brake lines, and floor the accelerator by signing as many free agents as they possibly can. So, here they stand, with ceaseless failure behind them and three uncertain paths in front of them: Burn it down, go for broke, or a compromise between the two. With that in mind, I want to make a rudimentary examination of what each of the three roads looks like: the goods, the bads, the final years of Robinson Cano’s contract and on.

Since I sometimes have flagging self-confidence let’s add some CAVEATS: I won’t pretend to be an expert on value, and I don’t intend to break down exact player-for-player exchanges. This implies a level of knowledge I simply don’t have. I’m working off a general understanding of the state of the game and the team. Others who have spent years closely studying the minors will have a much better idea of what the nuts and bolts of these ideas would entail. We’re working with broad strokes here.

My amateurism sufficiently disclosed, let’s get into it with the direction I’d most prefer the team follow: Burn. It. Down.

Kingdome demolition

The Plan

Trade James Paxton to the…….Brewers? Sure, the Brewers, for prospects

This is the centerpiece of the rebuild process. Paxton is arguably the team’s most valuable major league piece and the most valuable arm by a mile. With three multiple (Baseball-reference says he’s a FA in 2021, but he just finished his first year of arbitration. I dunno.) years of club control and coming off a four-win season in only 130 IP, Paxton presents any team with dreams of 2018 contention ace upside at a bargain price. The ability to acquire one young MLB-ready player and multiple low-level minors prospects is in play.

Additionally, with the combination of the Mariners place at the end of a contention window, Paxton’s agent Scott Boras almost totally shunning extensions, and Paxton’s terrifying injury history, the idea of James Paxton: Lifetime Mariner is an unlikely and unwise proposition.

With club control and 2017 representing a career year, Paxton’s value has almost certainly never been higher. While rolling the dice and hoping he stays healthy and productive into the deadline of 2018 may theoretically let you take advantage of a panic buy in a frenzied market, the risk is simply too high. I love James Paxton and watching him become one of the game’s best left-handed pitchers in Seattle has been a joy, but baseball is cruel. Trade Pax.

Trade the relievers, all the good relievers

With the tacit admission that 2018 won’t be a contending year baked into the DNA of this plan, and intriguing if unproven power arms such as Dan Altavilla, Thyago Vieira, and others in house, there’s no need holding onto high leverage relief specialists. Nick Vincent? See ya buddy, thanks for the regression last year. David Phelps? More like David Whelps, in my opinion. Edwin Diaz? You’re cool. I like you. Good luck in Arizona!

Kyle Goofin

Explore trading Kyle Seager

Despite his down year in 2017, Seager may very well be the most valuable player on the Mariners’ 40-man roster. With four years and only ~$57 million left on his contract, a 30-year-old, good defense, clearly established four-win player should have sizable value on the market.

The major downside is positional demand. Whereas with James Paxton everyone is always looking for starting pitching, there are only so many third base jobs to go around. Still, if Jerry Dipoto can find someone to fill his demands (and they should be very high) Kyle Seager could bring back a boon of talented players to stock throughout Modesto, Clinton, and Arkansas. It would hurt, but everything about this plan hurts. Bye, Kyle. Thanks for everything.

Who would like to be paid to have some old, potentially useful players on their baseball team?

Look, no one wants to have to do this plan; we all want the Mariners to be great, and we want them to be great with these players. We may not have to, but we do, in fact, love these guys. But Felix Hernandez, Robbie Cano, and Nelson Cruz are not here for a gutted franchise aiming for the 2020 AL West Title. While Cruz may have legitimate trade value, as he refuses to act his age and is in the last year of his deal, Cano and Hernandez represent near total sunk costs at this point. Cano in particular, with $140 million left on his deal, would require a substantial swallowing of dead money by ownership.

These are the difficult realities of going for it through free agency back in 2014-2015. The rent comes due, and building for the future with these aging players and their contracts around is simply not feasible. Financially, and emotionally, it is the hardest part of this plan. But it’s one that must be done. All efforts should be made to mitigate the money owed on these contracts, and gaining any and all financial flexibility a top priority.

Cano Cruz

The 2018 Outlook

The gutting and stripping of the Mariners big league roster is designed to end with the farm system sufficiently stocked with talent to be at or near the top 10 in the game. It is contingent upon the franchise extending Jerry Dipoto and allowing him the trust and time necessary to see the rebuild through to some sort of completion. But the 2018 season is almost certainly a total loss.

While Dipoto has proven to be moderately adept at finding readily available ~league-average talent with little to no long-term commitment, it’s hard to see this version of the Mariners winning more than 70 games. Safeco will be empty, fans will complain, revenues will drop, and the seventeenth (and very, very likely eighteenth) consecutive season of playoff baseball will pass on. I won’t lie: it will hurt, and we’ll hate it.

Sad Fan

The Rationale

In the 2007/2008 offseason the Baltimore Orioles, fresh off their 10th consecutive year missing the poststeason, made a choice. With the Red Sox and Yankees at the height of power and the newly re-branded Rays a looming terror, Baltimore decided to acquiesce the immediate future to their rivals. The centerpiece of this acquiescence was trading their best player; a 28-year old, oft-injured but tremendously talented Canadian left-handed pitcher – Érik Bédard.

Clearly, if you’re reading this, you’re standing here with me at the gates of hell, so we won’t walk any further down this road. I bring up the Bedard trade because the 2007 Orioles and 2017 Mariners are not dissimilar. They are/were both aging, success-deprived franchises poorly suited for short term competition with other teams in their division. The Bedard trade was foundational in the Orioles making the playoffs three of the past six seasons and represents the kind of long-term planning the Mariners have never seemed able to both commit to and execute competently.

The desolation that is the Mariners minor league talent base demands recompense, one way or the other. While further losing seasons at the major league level and the loss of many of the team’s beloved stars will sting and sting badly, the presence of multiple budding stars and (fingers crossed) superstars in the minor leagues will tide over us diehard fans. No longer will we have to content ourselves with having to squint and voluntarily bashing our heads on desks to see anything more than MLB role players in the team’s top prospects. Uber-prospects inspire dreams, and dreams can carry you through a whole hell of a lot, even when reality sucks.

It’s an agonizing choice and certainly an unlikely one. All signs point to an attempt at one final year of contention in 2018. But this plan offers hope beyond the second Wild Card spot or a single playoff game at Safeco Field, glorious though that would be. It offers the possibility of years and years of playoffs, dozens of playoff games, of a World Series banner flapping with the Puget Sound sunset behind it. Whether we get it or not, we deserve to dream that dream.

Safeco Pano

The Worst Mariners, Part III

The PENULTIMATE portion of this list, coming to you hot off the press.

Let it be known that collating the previous two parts of this ILLUSTRIOUS series has deprived Nathan of his health, leaving him weak and weary and ill. (He really is sick right now – feel free to send him well wishes on TWITTER.) It turns out that being a Mariners fan has a multitude of hazards. Fortunately, I’m here to make sure that all seven of our devoted readers will still able to access the #content they crave. The show must go on, after all.

(Also, just in case you missed ’em, here’s Part I and Part II.)

21. Dustin Ackley 

I, like many of you, remember exactly where I was the moment Dustin Ackley made his major league debut. I was so excited I went and bought his shirsey the moment it was available in the team store. I’ve never been more confident that a player was going to turn into someone special. Six years later, I only wear his shirsey when I’m confident my infant son is going to spit up on me. (dg)

ackley4.0.png

22. Kevin Mitchell

Look, he was actually better than I thought. A 117 wRC+ in 400 PA ain’t bad. But the slugging was almost a hundred points lower than the year before he was a Mariner, and almost two hundred points lower than the year after. Remembering that his solitary season in Seattle was not the end of his career, but rather a brief nadir before a resurgence in Cincinnati only stirs up my blood afresh. (Nathan)

23. Rob Johnson

There are a lot of takeaways and things to remember from the 2010 season. That weird popcorn magazine cover, the foul bunt heard around the world, napgate, and of course Jack Z bringing back Russell Branyan for some reason. But the one thing that I will always remember is Opening Day of 2010. The Mariners would win their first of 61 games that year. Someone has to hit the first home run of a season and for some reason Rob Johnson had the honors in ’10. In hindsight, this should have been not just a bad omen, but THE bad omen for what I, at the risk of sounding hyperbolic, would call the worst year in Seattle Mariners history. (SG)

24. Brandon League

Brandon is the only player I have actively booed while in attendance at Safeco Field, and not in jest. Yes, I was at the game and yes you’d have booed as well. I feel no regrets. (Skiba)

brandonleague2

25. Dave Hengel

It’s strange to think that there are hundreds of thousands of photographs of Dave Hengel in existence: his three baseball cards arrived at the height of the junk wax era. Boxed away in attics by hopeful failed capitalists rests his memorial. All that remains: a mullet uninterested in gravity, two halves of a mustache separated by a pregnant pause, an ironic smile tied to that oversized, forgettable gold-S logo. Hengel was a small fish in a small pond, once the king of Calgary, a powerful demi-DH; in the majors, his career numbers were on pace for a -7 win full season. But it doesn’t matter. He made it. He got a baseball card. He became a Seattle Mariner, in every sense of that concept. And in every baseball card, he’s smiling. (phd)

26. Al Martin

In 2001, while every other Mariner was enjoying a career year, Al Martin was OPSing 10 points below his career average. He also claimed after running into Carlos Guillen that it reminded him of when, as a strong safety for USC, he ran into Leroy Hoard. Problem being, USC has no record of Martin ever having attended the school, let alone putting on pads. On the bright side, Martin had one triple in four playoff plate appearances that year. $5 million well spent. (dg)

27. Russ Davis

From 1995-2001 the Mariners were generally good, and yet, like a lot of legitimately good teams, they still had bad players on the roster. Russ Davis fits that bill perfectly. In 1997 Russ was okay. He notched a 105 wRC+ and was worth a shade over 1.5 wins. That half of the equation ignores the fact that he played the hot corner about as well as six-year-old Russ Davis could’ve. In 1998, he finished with 32 errors, nearly one quarter of the team’s total on the year, and reverted back to his old offensive ways (namely: being bad). Russ Davis was a not good baseball player on a good team. (Peter)

28. Marc Rzepczynski

You’ll note a glut of relievers on this list, and that’s no mistake. Relievers are, in their traditional role, probably the worst baseball players alive; failed, flawed starters who hang on by learning some speciality, like a sidearm, or giving up two-thirds of a three run lead and walking the bases loaded before “getting the save.” (Nathan)

29. Pete O’Brien

Pete is remembered fondly by some, probably because of his association with the inaugural years of Griffey, Buhner, Edgar, and Randy. Instead, O’Brien cobbled together a -0.3 WAR over his four-year M’s career while playing the game’s most premium offensive position. His one plus? Rocking half-tint aviators. Devil may care. (Scott)

8610-8Fr

30. Jose Mesa

Mesa more or less single-handedly lost the very first game played in Safeco Field, according to my memory of the game. I refuse to go back and check because placing the blame in one, specific place to explain why the franchise is so derpy feels a lot better than running any numbers on it. Thanks a lot, bro. (Skiba)

(We’ll wrap up with Part IV tomorrow.)

The 40 Worst Mariners, Part II

Not what you want, not what you need. This, is what you have.

Everyone says they want to be liked; we all want success, the big house, the happy family, a comfortable retirement, etc. It’s all lies, albeit lies at least as much to oneself as to others. Death comes for us all, and although as a species we’ve done an exceptional job distracting ourselves from that fact with our petty squabbles and busy schedules, the truth is life is not a highway, it’s a railroad. We’re on tracks, and the line stops in the same damn place regardless.

Mankind has long yearned for immortality, and we’ve crafted a series of elaborate realities in which we can, but at its essence perhaps the only real way for us to live forever is to do something in life that lives in the memories of those left behind. As Maximus Decimus Meridius said, “What we do in life, echoes in eternity,” but the truth is this: The echoes of eternity resonate longer in a deeper canyon, and you can carve deep hollows of memory into your fellow humans with failure, just as easily as success. These 10 men, these Mariners, they chose the latter. They chose forever.

(Part I, with explanation of criteria and methodology, here)

11. Jeremy Reed

Jeremy Reed
(That’s not how you do that)

We all have a type. Some of us go for someone who is charismatic and controls a room just by walking in. For others, it’s someone on the train with a dog-eared copy of a book that you’ve been convincing yourself to read. For the Seattle Mariners post-2003, it was light-hitting, left-handed center fielders who could run a little and supposedly hit for contact. Jeremy Reed was the catalyst of this movement. Arguably the centerpiece in the Freddy Garcia trade with the White Sox, Reed was called up in September, hit .397 in 18 games, and was declared THE FUTURE. That future went on to put on a DECENT 2005, get hurt, flame out, and somehow play for the Mets. A reminder that all roads lead to Queens. (SG)

12. Miguel Batista

Miguel Batista holds the distinction of cobbling together the very worst pitching season in M’s history (by win probability added – WPA). In 2008, Batista’s WPA was a shockingly abhorrent -4.49; according to FanGraphs, any season-long WPA value less than -3.0 is beyond awful. (For some perspective, over the last decade, the only pitcher to hurt his team’s chances of winning more in a season was the 2009 version of Brad Lidge, a man who blew 11 saves for the Phillies while posting an ERA of 7.21.) In 20 starts in ‘08, Miguel allowed a triple slash line of .307/.409/.536 (i.e., he made the average hitter look like this year’s Justin Turner or Kris Bryant). Batista eventually assumed more of a swingman/bullpen role, where he was somewhat less bad, but the damage was done and the season was doomed and your Seattle Mariners lost 100+ games for the first time in 25 years. #TheMojoIsRising (Andrew)

13. Jose Vidro

vidro
(Not how you do this either but lol Cubes)

If you go to Wikipedia, someone had the audacity to write “Though he never officially retired, Vidro has not played since 2008.” As if anyone that trotted out as many times as Vidro pathetically did for the Mariners in 2008 needs to declare they are done when, go figure, you were DFA’d midway through August with a batting line of .234/.274/.338 as the freakin’ DESIGNATED HITTER. Apologies for the grammatically unsound sentence, I just got so worked up thinking about him. We won’t even go into the fact that Vidro did all of that jazz, only in a more garbage way, for the entirety of 2007. For a team that has put together an impressive string of pathetic designated hitters, Vidro declares himself king of that shit mountain. (Peter)

14. Bob Wolcott

One ALCS Game 1 in which Wolcott walked five and struck out two does not a man make. Walcott was objectively crap in AAA before he was called up in a state of emergency for the ‘95 Mariners, and subsequently killed the Mariners for the remainder of his short-lived M’s career before Arizona plucked him in the 53rd round of the ‘97 expansion draft. It’s better off if you remember his career based on one playoff start result and ignore the rest. (Scott)

15. Austin Jackson

Austin Jackson
(mmmmmmmmm yes mmmmmm weak contact mmmm delicious yes)

Austin Jackson swinging an aluminum trekking pole at a barbell below sea level. Austin Jackson gently tapping a croquet ball the last four inches through a wicket with a live toucan. Austin Jackson slapping an already broken piñata with a carp on roller skates. Austin Jackson slapping empty plastic Easter eggs with a velvet glove in a wind tunnel. Austin Jackson swinging a 30 lb log at a rolled up sock on Jupiter. Austin Jackson… (Nathan)

16. Bobby Ayala

Might as well get the emotional one out of the way. Ayala was actually filthy in ‘94, striking out 12 batters per 9 innings and cruising to a 2.28 FIP. It’s that performance that had Lou Pinella going to him in high-leverage situations for the better part of his Mariners career, where he allowed a 110 OPS+. The suck lives beyond your memories, friends. (Scott)

17. Milton Bradley

Milton Bradley
(We don’t even like Eric Wedge, yet here we feel for him.)

I don’t feel as if this one needs any elaboration. (Skiba)

18. John Moses

John Moses was the baseball equivalent of a substitute middle school shop teacher, a rebuttal against hero worship. He was an everyman in the sense that people looked up to him, saw themselves in him, and felt despair at their inadequacy. John Moses represented the death of the boyhood dream, the yawning rift between ourselves and who we wanted to be. John Moses did nothing well, except not be the worst at anything. He played center field because the alternatives were worse; flanked by the morose butcher Danny Tartabull in right, he always appeared quietly competent. He appeared fast, and the caught stealings that nearly matched his stolen bases brought praise for his effort. He hit an empty .250 in a pair of seasons when the young and the old, your Mickeys Brantley and your Gormans Thomas and your Als Cowens could hardly break the Mendoza Line. He was there, never making the manager look bad, never the last man in line before the ax. In that sense, he was the most realistic childhood hero that baseball ever produced. (phd)

19. Heathcliff Slocumb

As the old saying goes, never replace a legend – be the guy who replaces the legend’s replacement. Mike Cameron nearly single-handedly tore that idea to shreds in Seattle. A fate far worse is to be the guy instead of the guy – or guys. It’s not Heathcliff Slocumb’s fault he was traded for two of the most important members of a team that ended an 86-year curse. Cameron was at least given the opportunity to make a name for himself and rose to the occasion. Slocumb stumbled out of the gate, and that scab was picked at on a near-daily basis eight years later during one of the most dramatic playoff runs the country had ever seen. Sometimes it’s not about who you are but about who you aren’t. And who Slocumb wasn’t was a World Series Champion. (dg)

20. Kendrys Morales

(Well, actually, this is how you do this. Yes.)     

In 2013, when the Mariners were bad, Kendrys Morales actually had a pretty good offensive year for Seattle (119 wRC+ in 657 PA). One season later, after rejecting a qualifying offer, missing all of Spring Training, signing a short-term deal with the Twinkies in June, and being re-acquired by Seattle via trade in July, Morales went on to post an 82 wRC+ as a Mariner (in 239 PA, most of which came while hitting cleanup). Yuck! In aggregate, Morales’s 2014 offensive numbers were pretty putrid, but they become even more gut-wrenchingly awful when you break them down thusly:

Kendrys Morales as a Mariner in 2014
Split PA wRC+
Bases empty 129 89
Men on base 110 73
Men in scoring 56 39

A DOUBLE EWE ARRR SEA OF THIRTY-NINE WITH RISP. Why??? A reminder that the ‘14 Mariners missed the playoffs by ONE game and thanks so h*ckin’ much for being the worst, Kendrys. (Andrew)

(Part III tomorrow)

The baseball season needs to be like the soccer/football/futbol/calcio season

Baseball, in an attempt to remain relevant in everyone’s eyes (despite the fact that the postseason is currently going), recently revealed the prospect of two expansion squads entering the field, and the subsequent changes that would accompany it.

Most importantly, if baseball expands, that would mean that the Seattle Mariners would be joined by two new teams to one of the most futile stains in all of baseball–the few, the sad, the ones who haven’t made the World Series.

One of the key aspects of the expansion plans involve restructuring the divisional makeups, leaving us with 16 teams in each league, and four teams in each division. That would immediately have implications on the playoffs, and all around, the whole thing could become a giant mess.

As it stands now, the Wild Card is a necessary evil to making the playoffs work, otherwise you are constantly rewarding a team like the 2005 San Diego Padres with a chance for offseason greatness, over the likes of many more, better teams (three in fact!). SPOILER: If your system rewards the Padres, the system is broken.

What if we could get rid of the necessary evil/Padres? What if we could get rid of all evil in the world? That is right. I’m talking about a soccer system, the sport of unparalleled virtue and moral cleanliness. I’m talking about making every single game count, not just the ones your No. 1 and No. 2 starters make. I’m talking about constructing a team that is built to win throughout the entire season, not just in October.

In the past 20 years, the overall regular season champion has only won the World Series four times. It is even more rare for the World Series to include the overall top two teams in baseball.

This is an opportunity like no other. Abolish the playoff scenario that so many of us are addicted to, because the end of the season dramatically would become that playoff race. In seven of the past 10 years, including this season, the top two records in MLB have been decided by two games or less.

The entire experiment would be an exercise in equity and fairness. Rather than have the NL West be murderers row while the Washington Nationals (thanks for not making the World Series) and the Chicago Cubs are busy padding their stats against the cellars of their divisions, this inventive system would level the playing field.

This could happen in a multiple of ways:

  • Each team plays each team five times: two home, two away, and ONE NEUTRAL LOCATION (why I have no idea) (So Spokane can get some games Go Zags)
  • Each team plays each team six times: three home, three away.

The overall season length remains relatively the same, if not a bit shorter (whoops the owners probably don’t care for that). If anything, the playoffs no longer somehow drag into November, because people only care about October baseball, not November baseball. The rest of the atmosphere would remain the same. If you are a garbage team, you can still play spoilers for those that are in the race for the top. The glory is there for the team that is truly the best team in baseball, not the team that just happens to have Madison Bumgarner on it. Baseball isn’t broken yet, but its not like it is completely fixed either.

Perhaps you are sitting there, and thinking (because you are a well-informed, global, multi-sports viewer), hold on a second! How can we even discuss the idea of a soccer/football/futbol/calcio table without even broaching the subject of relegation. Well that, my friend, is an issue that is too complex to approach in this blog post. The discussion of how to improve baseball is far from over. We are just getting started.

 

Extend Jerry Dipoto

Wait, aren’t you the pessimist blog?

With the end of another playoff-less season, the accompanying tours of shame by the various members of the Mariners front office and ownership are well underway. Last week it was Jerry Dipoto, putting his hand on the Bible and swearing before God and Country to uphold an offseason of clean living, and minimal transactions. This week, it’s new CEO John Stanton’s turn, offering an emphatic support of Dipoto’s front office in an article by Greg Johns, of MLB dot com:

“I’m completely supportive of Jerry and thrilled with the job he’s done and the way he’s addressed the adversity and overcome it, in many respects,” Stanton said. “I’m all in on Jerry and enthusiastic about what he’s done.”

In the theater of public relations, this is very much following the steps on the dance card. The team isn’t going to change over the front office after two seasons, one a qualified success, and the other easily hand waved as a mere “setback”. However, thanks to a recent article from national writer, Arby’s enthusiast, and general menche Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, we have some TREMENDOUS NUGGETUDE that Jerry Dipoto’s contract is set to expire after the upcoming season.

Now, let’s back up here, and all agree to some basic things:

1) It is now clear, if he accepted a 3-year contract, that Jerry Dipoto’s primary, secondary, and perhaps even tertiary mandates were to end the organization’s playoff drought as quickly as possible, no matter what the cost.

2) Despite disagreeing with plenty of moves, my and many of my colleagues’ issues with Dipoto’s time as General Manager have had more to do with the decision to try and maximize the current window, rather than the granular details of how he has gone about that. Broadly speaking, we’re aiming at different targets, not arguing flight paths.

3) All but the most blindly optimistic Mariner fan would likely acquiesce that any scenario that involves the 2018 Mariners competing for more than a Wild Card spot, and an ~85 win season, involves a series of extreme outliers.

Now, if we can agree on these three points the problem begins to come into focus. The Mariners are taking their head personnel executive, the man who will be in charge of another draft, and another trade deadline, into a contract year, seemingly with a win-or-else mandate, for a season that appears to have a low probability of success. This represents a failure to acknowledge the current power structure of the American League; where Houston, New York, Boston, and even Cleveland appear to return very strong rosters for 2018. Additionally, any executive with a soon to expire contract, looking to save his job by turning a 95th percentile outcome into a 90th percentile outcome by further savaging tomorrow for today, is gonna take one look at the handle in his office labeled “YOLO” and yank on it without a second thought.

So, this is all preamble to my main, badly buried lede: For the sake of 2018 AND 2019 and beyond, the Mariners should sign Jerry Dipoto to a 2-3 year extension before he makes even one more transaction. The cult of personality surrounding Dipoto as a baseball messiah never made sense, and is finally beginning to deflate, but by a fair and objective analysis he appears to be, at minimum, the organization’s best general manger since Pat Gillick. I know, I know, the lowest of bars, cleared.

Still, having been fortunate enough to talk to Dipoto on a few occasions, and through observing him work closely over the past two seasons, I believe him to be a smart, forward-thinking man with good communication skills, and the ability to manage the people below him to the degree that his overall vision for the franchise doesn’t fall into chaotic disrepair. At minimum, he deserves a chance to draft and develop for more than two seasons to see if Kyle Lewis, Sam Carlson, Evan White, etc. blossom into the kind of franchise-altering talents this team so desperately needs.

By extending Dipoto now, the Mariners allow his plan the stability necessary to look beyond 2018, key for not only Dipoto himself but for all the minor league coaches, scouts, and talent developers tasked with implementing a coherent, consistent program that regularly turns out major league talent in Seattle. The lack of coherence can have a cascading effect, with the stress of unknown job security leading to potential suffering of performance, damaging press leaks, and talent loss as employees jump ship for a seemingly more stable situation.

Crucially, extending Dipoto does not in fact commit the team to another 3-4 years of Jerry Dipoto. General Manager salaries are difficult to find, but with Theo Epstein making reportedly around $10 million dollars, it’s hard to believe Dipoto earns even half that. The risk of eating $10-15 million, should Dipoto’s regime tank and a change clearly becomes necessary is something, but its far from prohibitive in the world of professional baseball.

Jerry Dipoto was brought in to win now, and in 2016 he got very close. Despite the belief here that the best course of action is to build for the future, it is clear that ownership wants to break this damn losing streak in 2018, come hell or high water. That mandate is not inherently reflective of Dipoto’s ability as general manager. He has thus far gone to great pains in fact to NOT further saddle the organization with long-term commitments to older players and should be commended. Allowing him to work in a contract year where decisions made could be felt for years to come (hello, Erik Bedard trade) brings too great a temptation to sacrifice the future for a small chance at glory.

Whatever 2018 brings, Jerry Dipoto deserves the opportunity to transition the franchise to its next phase. For him, and for the franchise, an extension as soon as possible is the best thing to do. So, let’s do it.

 

Shohei Otani and Three Magic Words

My junior year of undergrad I had a professor, we’ll call him Mr. Williams. He was in his early 30’s, energetic, passionate, and opinionated. His class at my small bible college was one on the Book of Revelations, the Bible’s lowkey signing off on recreational drug use.

A major topic in Revelations, one debated by scholars for centuries, is whether the Rapture, the event in which God calls his still living faithful from earth to heaven to create a new heaven and new earth, is to occur before or after The Great Tribulation, a period cataclysms and horrors set to wipe out a vast swatch of humanity, and signal The End Times.

The two camps of this argument are shorthanded in Evangelical scholarly circles as “Pre and Post-Trib”. Mr. Williams was Pre-Trib, and was to such a passionate degree that you could almost forget that brilliant men had been arguing over this, a prophesy written in a foreign language scribbled down by a guy most likely under the effect of hallucinogens while sitting around on a small Greek island, for hundreds of years. In all that time there has never been a consensus opinion to emerge, and that probably has something to do with the fact that Koine Greek is a bit of a bitch, and that the future is, per my experience, inherently unknowable.

Nonetheless Mr. Williams was unshakable in his belief that the only possible reality was that God would spare his Faithful the horrors of the Tribulation. It was in that class that the largely dormant, but very much alive, seeds of speculation in my mind began to grow, and has led to a philosophy of stubbornly resisting passionate argument, probably too much so.

It was in that class I formed the opinion that the best and most correct answer for something as unknowable as the Tribulation/Rapture debate was one Mr. Williams seemed unable to see, let alone arrive at:

“I don’t know”

***

Shohei Otani is a unique player, in a unique situation. The perplexing and shortsighted willingness of the MLBPA to negotiate away the earning power of future players has put a cap on what teams can pay international free agents. As such Otani, who has made it mostly clear that he intends to come to MLB during this offseason, will most likely make the decision on where to play based on factors that have little or nothing to do with the terms of his initial contract.

As financial compensation is traditionally motivating factors 1-10 for deciding where an athlete is going to play, the absence of it in Otani’s case leaves a vast, gaping, crater in which we can pour our speculations, dreams, and hopes. This is a natural instinct. Humans like to know, and when we can’t we grow uncomfortable and oftentimes try to shape reality to our will.

We have seen plenty of exactly that with Otani this week: “Seattle is close to Japan”, “The Mariners have a strong track record with Japanese players”, or “Otani doesn’t care about money”. The latter is particularly fraught, as it can lead to assigning a moral superiority to a player accepting less money than he can theoretically extract from cutthroat billionaires, where in fact it’s easy to posit that getting every last cent possible out of them in order to use it for the ease of the suffering of the impoverished is at least as, if not more in line, with a highly-aspiring moral code.

The reality with Shohei Otani is we do not know. It’s entirely plausible Otani himself doesn’t know. We have no reason to believe the Mariners are any more or less desirable to him than any of the other 29 major league baseball teams. We do not know how much money means to him, nor should we ascribe a sort of Sunday School Morality to the possibility that he is almost assuredly giving up short term financial gain with the timing of his arrival in MLB.

We should allow Otani the dignity and mystery inherent in all the wildly complex depths of each human soul, and admit that we do not know why he is coming to America at this exact moment, and we do not know where he will choose to play. To attempt to distill the human spirit into simple cultural and/or moral archetypes to fit our predispositions does him and us a disservice. This is the most honest appraisal of the situation, and as it is so often with honesty, the most freeing.

Shohei Otani could become a Mariner, and he most likely will not. While we can read whatever we like into how much money he lives off of in Japan, or channel a Western understanding of Japanese culture into motivations for him to feel honored/dishonored by this or that, doing so plays into many of our worst American/Western/Imperialistic instincts. Real information will come in due course. For now, the best course of action is to embrace the three magic words:

We don’t know.