Inside The Park

Baseball\’s Future in the Emerald City

Archive for February, 2006

What is the Baseball World Coming To?

Posted by JasonAChurchill on February 28, 2006

First, it was our friend Bob Finnigan jumping the scoop on the possibility that the Mariners will extend the contract of 33-year-old OF/DH Raul Ibanez for two more years and at more than $5 million per season.

Then we get word of the ridiculous extension that former Mariners outfielder Randy Winn received from the San Francisco Giants. The deal will pay Winn just under $8 millon per season through the age of 35.

Also today, the Pittsburgh Pirates agreed to a three-year contract with shortstop Jack Wilson.

Wilson is a nifty-fielding shortstop with very modest career numbers – .263/.304/.368. Yep, you are reading correctly, Wilson’s career OPS over his five-year career is .672, or the non-adjusted equivalent of what Jeremy Reed accomplished last season in a disappointing season.

What’s my beef? The Bucs gave Wilson $20 million, that’s my beef.

If we assume that Wilson is a great defender, which may not even be an assumption to begin with, he very well may be truly great defensively, is he worth anywhere near $7 million per season?

He’s not a player that is still developing his offensive skills, he is what he is. His numbers are down slightly from his career numbers, and at 28, he’s not going to flip some switch all of a sudden.

It’s one thing for the Seattle Mariners, they of a top 10 MLB payroll of over $90 million, to pay $5.5 million for an offensive asset, even if Ibanez is just a DH and leaving his prime, and for San Francisco, a club that ranked in the upper-middle of the pack over the past three season in team payroll, to pay a center fielder who will produce at the top of the order the $8 million per year that Randy Winn is now due.

It’s another issue altogether for the Pittsburgh Pirates to give Jack Wilson twenty million frijoles.

Pittsburgh paid out $35 million in player salaries in 2005, and have budgeted for about $47 million in ’06.

Wilson was already scheduled to make $4.6 million this upcoming season, 10% of the team’s payroll, which can be argued as too much for a player of Wilson’s impact, or lack thereof, to be holding down.

In ’07, the year in which would have been Wilson’s free agent year, he’ll be 29 and making $5.25 million, likely about 10% of the club’s payroll, unless Pitt plans to bust the budget – highly unlikely.

In 2008, year two of the extension, Wilson will make $6.5 million. Not sure I can foresee Pittsburgh’s owners raising payroll to $65 million, which means Wilson will soak up more than 10% of the club’s financial responsibilities to the 40-man roster.

To compare and contrast, the Mariners will pay Yuniesky Betancourt less than $500,000 per year through 2008. Years in which the Cuban will be 24, 25 and 26 years old, and certain to dupe or trump Wilson’s offensive output while doing his own thing with the glove which goes unmatched in the game.

Wait, don’t go away. It gets worse for Pirates fans.

Wilson, at age 30, when he is likely to still be hitting in the 260s with a sub-.400 slugging percentage, or at least not much better than those mediocre numbers, will make $7.25 million, probably about 15% of the Pirates payroll. It’s very difficult to even pretend that Pittsburgh’s small-market ownership is working its way to payrolls above $50-55 million over the next few seasons.

The Pirates say they are trying to build a winner. Jack Wilson says he believes in them, which is why he signed the extension. But in order to compete in that division, or in any division, Pittsburgh needs to sign free-agent pitching. Their farm system was once loaded with potential on the mound, but the subsequent surgeries of John Van Benschoeten, Sean Burnett and former No. 1 overall pick Bryan Bullington, have left Pitt with Zach Duke and a slew of other question marks.

Oliver Perez’s health would go a long ways in that regard, but that’s more than a question mark, it’s rather large bet that not even the Pirates can feel safe making.

Pat Maholm is another prospect with solid potential, but how far away is he, and the aforementioned foursome from being helpful, let alone impactful, on the Pirates 25-man roster?

So instead of putting themselves in a position to ink a solid to big-name free agent starter such as Barry Zito, Kerry Wood, Jason Marquis, Mark Mulder or Doug Davis, they spent most of that money to keep a below average shortstop for three extra years.

The Pirates have holes offensively, too, and their catching situation is not in the best of hands. This club has no business handing Jack Wilson that kind of money.

Brian Sabean, and to a lesser extent Chowie Lincolnstrong (I won’t indict Bavasi on the Ibanez extension), are now safe, for the time being, from being ridiculed by me for their outrageous contract extensions over the past week.

Dave Littlefield will take the honor of dumbest GM in baseball – for now, anyways.

The game is full of idiotic personnel decisions. This is just one of dozens that will occur this season. Hopefully for the fans in this city, not too many of them will happen with the M’s.

For reference, Jack Wilson’s baseball-reference list of similar bats. (recent player comps only)
Comps – Kevin Stocker, David Eckstein, Royce Clayton, Shawon Dunston, Kurt Stillwell


Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Who’s the Best Position Player on the Roster?

Posted by JasonAChurchill on February 27, 2006

That’s a good question, isn’t it? The consensus would certainly agree that Felix Hernandez is already the best pitcher. But of the 13-14 position players on the roster, which one is the best baseball player?

Many would say it’s Ichiro, by a long shot. Others would claim it’s Richie Sexson.

Maybe a chosen few would claim that the best player on the Seattle Mariners’ roster is Adrian Beltre or Raul Ibanez.

Ichiro’s speed, ability to get on base at a satisfactory level (.377 career OBP) and his uncanny talent to make an impact in so many ways is probably what makes him the club’s best player.

Richie Sexson is one-dimensional. He’s the Jeff Clement among Mariners veterans. Ichiro is the Adam Jones.

Sexson has one plus skill, hitting for power. Ichiro does a lot of things pretty well, lending a hand in every area, including the occasional home run.

In the end, many would agree that Ichiro Suzuki is the best player on the team. But when it comes to value, is Sexson the victor?

One way to analyze this is to remove each player from the roster and assess the impact of their absence. Without Ichiro, Jeremy Reed probably steps in as the club’s leadoff man and even if he only modestly improves on last year’s offensive performance, can provide the M’s with a decent option at the top of the order. Reed is more than capable of posting an on-base percentage over .360. But even at .350, it’s not a problem area for the M’s.

Reed hit just .254 last season, but did draw 48 walks in 136 starts and posted a .322 OBP. The differential of 68 points between his batting average and his OBP is a nice sign, indicating he can work counts and give himself a chance to get a good pitch to hit.

Assuming he improves his batting average, say about 20 points to .275, somewhat conservatively, his OBP would naturally rise with it to the .350 range. With more hits comes more confidence and with more confidence comes even better plate discipline and more patience. It’s not out of the question that Reed puts up a .365 or better OBP in 2007.

So Ichiro’s on-base skills probaby wouldn’t be missed all that much, at least at the top of the order. And if the bench player that has replaces Ichiro in the lineup, albeit not in the same spot in the order, can get on base at similar career rates, the OBP issue is a non-problem.
His speed may, however, as the club is void of another 30+ stolen base threat. Reed may hover between 18-25 at a maximum, while Yuniesky Betancourt may swipe 15 if he’s lucky. Betancourt has the speed to steal 40, but has a light year to go in reading pitchers and game situations.

How about Ichiro’s defense in right field? Well, if he was to be erased, the M’s would probably play Ibanez in right to start the season, keep Everett int he DH role and start Matt Lawton in left. Lawton has more range than Ibanez in left, but a slightly weaker arm and is far from sure-handed. The difference is marginal, however.

Ibanez’s arm is okay in right, but the Mariners would suffer a range differential between the former catcher and the great Ichiro. But right field might be the seventh most important defensive position for the M’s, as Safeco Field creates such a defensive premium on center and left field.

Ichiro’s defense would be missed, but it wouldn’t create a glaring problem.

So where would Ichiro be sorely missed?

Other than the box office, probably not anywhere that shows up in statistics.

Richie Sexson is the exact opposite.

Sexson is the club’s lone bat that strikes fear into opposing pitchers. Pitchers pitch around him. He puts up big numbers in the middle of a lineup in which he is not only the sole protector, but one in which he is not protected.

What Sexson did last season was amazing. He stepped into a ball park with a rep for crushing right-handed power hitters and he had one of the five or six most impressive seasons a Seattle Mariners player has ever had since Safeco opened six years ago.

Perhaps only Ichiro’s 2001, Boone’s 2001, Edgar and AROD’s 2000 and Junior’s 1999 were more impressive. Sexson showed Safeco, and the baseball world, that he’s a legit 40-homer ower hitter, in the classic sense.

Without Sexson the Mariners would have probably had a replacement level bat somewhere in the lineup. beltre would have had to hit fourth, adding even more pressure to the newly signed third baseman.

Needless to say, the Mariners would have scored a lot less runs without Sexson in the lineup.

But I still contend that Ichiro is more valuable.

Ichiro is the team’s rock. Even after a sub par year in 2005, it’s clear that he’s the spark that starts the blaze. At times, he’s even the biggest flame of the fire. He is the ignitor – sorry Willie Bloomquist, it’s not you.

In a pitchers duel, Ichiro is the most dangerous player in the contest and one of the league’s scariest opponents. Imagine, if you will, a tie ballgame in the eighth or ninth inning and Ichiro is due up to lead off the inning.

The opposing manager has a lot of things to consider here. Does he try and get Ichiro to chase a bad pitch, hoping he reaches for a ball in the dirt, as he often does, and prays that the unorthodox hitter doesn’t slap a single the other way? The skipper also has to hope Ichiro doesn’t lay off those offerings and draw a walk. Though he doesn’t draw a lot of them, Ichiro has averaged more than 40 walks a season and has a career high of 68 with a median of about 50 per year. He will walk, and it may be in a game situation in which it hurts the bad guys the most.

On the other hand, does the pitcher go right after Ichiro, throwing everything at him but the dugout drinking fountain and risk making a mistake to the wiry, 5-foot-9, 170-pounder who will turn on anyone’s fastball and obey the cafe?

The point is, Ichiro is more than capable of so many things during a baseball game, that his value cannot be fully measured by statistics. He may rob David Ortiz of a two-out bases loaded double in the third inning of an eventual 4-3 Mariners win over Boston. He may gun down Mark Kotsay trying to go from first to third during a critical late-inning rally by division-rival Oakland.

He may steal second, and maybe third, one pitch before Bartolo Colon tosses a wild pitch allowing Ichiro to score the go-ahead run. Ichiro might even end the game on one swing of the bat.

Sexson’s impact on the Mariners should not be underestimated and his 2005 season was better than even the numbers suggested, considering park factors and lineup effect.

But Ichiro is a unique talent who at any given moment may win a ballgame for the Mariners in as many as five different direct ways. (Home run or other game-winning hit, game-saving catch, game-saving throw, rally-starting hit or walk, speed on bases)

Not to mention he’s the perfect squeeze-bunt candidate, whether he’s the runners at third or the batter at the plate. The impact angles for Ichiro are almost endless.

But it’s not just that he CAN accomplish so many things on the baseball field. It’s that he does. The past few years haven’t been much of a stage for the multi-talented Ichiro, but surround him with even a league-average roster and watch him prove his worth to the Seattle Mariners.

I still think in many ways Ichiro is overrated. I don’t believe he is among the elite talents in the game. He doesn’t have the impact that players such as Alex Rodrguez and Albert Pujols bring to the table day-in and day-out. Those two mega stars are among the very few that completely change the way their team’s lineup is handled. They make their teammates better, which isn’t easy to do in America’s favroite pastime. Ichiro doesn’t do that, not like the aforementioned pair.
But the daily stamp Ichiro can put on a winning team is unmatched in either league. If Ichiro were to be scouted the way a a 22-year-old minor league prospect is, he’d likely receive scouting scale grades that rivaled the combo of any player ever scouted.

He clearly has an 80 throwing arm. One of the very best in all of baseball with top shelf accuracy and laser beam velocity that has enticed the nutty fan in right field to utter the words “I think ichiro would be a good pitcher.” I’ve heard it, so believe it.

His speed is at worst a 70, in fact I’d personally give it an 80. he can swipe 40 bags a year with s good success rate. His median triples totals sit at nine per season and last year he gapped 12 of them, a career best, to go with a career high 15 home runs. Ichiro also uses his speed with precision in the field and as a pure base runner. He does occasionally make a bad read on a pitcher’s pickoff move, but other than that, he’s a plus-plus runner with intelligence.

A superb fielder with plus range and the ability to make the acrobatic catch with a flair for the dramatic, Ichiro is an easy 80 here. He never makes a mistake, never drops catchable balls, takes solid routes on balls and has unrivaled instincts. He appears to enjoy defense. And he should, he might be the best defensive right fielder of all time.
He hits for average, seemingly at will, and certainly desevres an 80 here, too. As a minor leaguer, scouts may take a look at his PPPA and make a modest assessment that Ichiro might be limited to being a .290 hitter at the major league level. But we’ve seen him hit .350 and .372 in the show, and his .332 career average is more than just an impressive number. It’s pretty special.

He wouldn’t receive an 80 grade in the power hitting department, but he certainly wouldn’t get poor grades, either. His extra-base totals and slugging percentages suggest he’s a 50-55 on the 20-80 scale. One scout I heard discussing Ichiro all but guaranteed that the M’s all-star could hit .300 and smack 25 home runs a year if he was trying to do it. We saw him hit about .300 in 2005 and he hit a mild 15 long balls. The scout suggested that Ichiro would probably sacrifice some of the pure contact he makes, meaning his strikeouts would likely rise by a fairly large margin into the low 100s.

His stolen base prowess would also suffer, as would his on-base numbers, likely.

But a .300/.340/.480, 25 HR, 25 SB, 40 BB, 100+ K Ichiro is still a scary one and it goes to show that Ichiro’s physical skills are pretty special.
Richie Sexson is a special power hitter. Truly, without a doubt. He isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime power hitter, at least not when compared (unfarily) to the steroid era players that often smacked 50-70 long balls a season. But Sexson has hall of fame power and it probably goes underappreciated considering where he’s played in his career.

Ichiro is the more value player. Ichiro is the better player. Sexson’s one talent, however, is just as special as Ichiro’s collection of skills.

It’s fun to sit here at 4:33AM and imagine the numbers these two players, both still in their prime, albeit the backside, would be able to put up if the proper compliments surrounded them.

Ichiro might just hit .340 with 20 homers and 40 steals. Sexson may go yard 50 times and drive in 140. Ichiro may hit for the cycle three or four times in a season and challenge strongly for another MVP. Richie might just challenge for that award himself.

Posted in Seattle Mariners | 2 Comments »

Competition is at Wrong Position

Posted by JasonAChurchill on February 25, 2006

All this nonsensical banter about the spring training competition at second base between a sub par talent, a 22-year-old kid without proper development and a has-been who hasn’t been healthy enough for a starting gig in three years, makes me sick.

Not because Jose Lopez should be handed the job regardless of his efforts in Peoria over the next five weeks, but because the audition should be taking place on the pitcher’s mound, in the form of a battle for the fifth spot in the starting rotation.

Yeah, I know, Felix is technically the fifth starter, but we all know Gil Meche is bottom-shelf among the five starting pitchers set to take on the 2006 season.

The minor league contracts given to veteran right-handers Dave Burba and Kevin Appier are nothing more than safety valves in case of extreme emergency. They have absolutely no chance of breaking camp as members of the 25-man roster unless the club suffers a rather large barrage of injuries to the pitching staff.

The M’s have guaranteed significant money to four starting pitchers. Jamie Moyer, Jarrod Washburn, Joel Pineiro and Meche.

Left-hander Moyer is due $5.5 million plus incentives at age 43. Newcomer Washburn will be paid $9.4 million in year one of a four-year deal, while Joel Pineiro will cash $6.3 million in checks this season and Meche is guaranteed a minimum of $3 million – $3.7 million as long as he doesn’t land on the disabled list.

The problems are abound in the aforementioned numbers. The club owes $24.2 million to four starter who combined for a 38-34 record with a paltry 4.77 ERA.

But the real issue lies in the fact that they elected to pay Meche more than $3million when they have at least three other viable options in the farm system.

This is where the competition should be, not at second base when the choice for the role is a no-brainer, unless you ask certain local beat writers.

Right-handers Clint Nageotte and Jesse Foppert are capable talents. Nageotte is ready for another shot at starting after showing strong signs that his stuff is primed for the challenge, and Foppert should be given a full, clean bill of health this week to start letting it fly without restrictions. The 25-year-old had Tommy John Surgery in 2004.

Nageotte’s newfound ability to get quick, easy outs, primarily via the ground ball, make him an attractive candidate – at least it should.

Foppert may be a tentative idea due to the surgery and all, but it’s been 16 months and it’s time he gets pushed into being the pitcher he was in 2003 when he was ranked the top pitching prospect in the game.

Southpaw Bobby Livinsgton isn’t a flashy prospect, which would explain his absence from Baseball America’s Top 10 Mariners’ Prospect Rankings earlier this month. But he’s been successful at every single stop he’s made along the way, even though he’s another Jamie Moyer-style soft-tosser.

Marcos Carvajal, the tall, slender right-hander acquired from Colorado for catcher Yorvit Torrealba is another arm that should at least be a candidate for the fifth starter spot. Carvajal, 21, posted a rather impressive 5.09 ERA out of the Rockies’ bullpen in 2005, including a sparkling 3.78 mark while pitching in the thin air of Denver’s Coors Field.

Rafael Soriano, the club’s right-handed setup man, off Tommy John surgery of his own, should also be a candidate, though it may be a year early for that re-transition. Soriano was primarily a starter prior to his call-up in 2003, and the Mariners have not ruled out the possibility that the Dominican returns to the rotation in the future, especially since the club has a surplus of short relief arms.

How difficult is it to post a 4.86 ERA and average 152 innings pitched in the big leagues?

That’s what Meche has done, on the average, over the past three seasons.

Over the last two seasons, Meche has been even worse, compiling a 5.06 ERA and averaging 136 innings.

Can Clint Nageotte put up numbers comparable to that? I’d have to bet that he could. I’d also lean toward betting that Livingston could do that also.

And Foppert. And Carvajal.

And all four of them would be doing it for the league minimum, paring three million snaps from the payroll.

Another preposterous problem the Meche signing presents is the lack of development for the ML-ready or near ML-ready arms. Now, it doesn’t matter if Nageotte is as dominating as Felix Hernandez this spring. He’s starting the year somewhere outside the M’s rotation, thanks to the contract given to the M’s former 1st round pick that avoided arbitration.

Foppert could bounce back and regain his mid-90s velocity and the sharp slider and dead-fish splitter could be dancing all over the strike zone, yet Meche will still be a starting pitcher for the M’s come April.

Livingston is a long shot, and should be, but he could be as sharp as a diamond tack this spring, and even throughout the first few months of the AAA season, and unless a DL stint from one of the incumbents opens a spot, the 23-year-old southpaw will be in Tacoma until September.

What a shame.

For years Pat Gillick protected all of this young pitching, refusing to part with the promising talent down on the farm to make the big-league club better, and now the organization has no idea how to best take advantage of the group that is ready for a role on the roster.

Why the M’s gave Meche the money they did is anybody’s guess. Maybe GM Bill Bavasi and his cronies still believe that the 27-year-old is a breakout candidate. Maybe the club is afraid to let him walk for nothing and head to another team and flourish.

Maybe the Seattle Mariners are just clueless.

So when the second base job is given to Jose Lopez in about a month, don’t be surprised – he will be the Mariners starting second-sacker on opening day. And when the Gil Meche throws up all over himself in 2006 – again – don’t be too shocked at that either, you saw that coming – it’s just too bad the Mariners didn’t.

But when September rolls around and the M’s are 10+ games out of playoff contention and you are finally getting to see the Nageotte’s, Foppert’s, Livingston’s and Carvajal’s for the first time and wonder why they weren’t tossed into the mix six months prior, be irate. Be very irate.
It’s sad when the grounded, intelligent, reasonable Mariners fanbase appears to have the more-than-occasional better grip on how to run the personnel department of a Major League Baseball franchise.

But it seems as though that is the case in Seattle.

Bill Bavasi may have wanted to go in another direction. Most outside the organization will probably never know. But there will come a time when someone will have to pay the price for mistakes like this. It won’t be Chuck Armstrong. It won’t be Howard Lincoln.

Until someone else feels the wrath, the fans will do the suffering.

And if Raul Ibanez is indeed going to be guaranteed $11+ million over two extended seasons…

Posted in M's Top Prospects, Seattle Mariners | 1 Comment »

Clement to Cal League?

Posted by JasonAChurchill on February 23, 2006

The Seattle Mariners have two solid catching prospects in the system, both of whom have their strengths and weaknesses sitting at the opposite end of the spectrum from their counterpart.

Rob Johnson, a right-handed hitting defensive-minded catcher out of the University of Houston, was the M’s fourth rounder in the ‘04 draft. Jeff Clement, a left-handed hitter with a power stroke unmatched in the entire system and perhaps the best hitting catcher in minor league baseball, was the 3rd pick overall in last June’s First Year Players Draft.

Johnson had a fine offensive season in 2005, impressive the organization with his athleticism, game calling, catch-and-throw skills and the overall progress he made in his first full season in pro ball.Clement, the national prep career home run leader and USC’s second all-time leader in long balls, has a ways to go defensively, but has an unrivaled work ethic and is expected to be at least average defensively when all is said and done.

While Clement spent just a month in a professional uniform last summer, Johnson was finishing a strong campaign where the 22-year-old combined to hit .280/.332/.432 with 30 walks and only 45 strikeouts in 375 at-bats.Johnson hit 11 homers and drove in 63, while swiping 12 bases in 15 attempts.

Clement played in 34 games and smacked six homers, all with Wisconsin in the Midwest League, and compiled a .315/.387/.508 line with 21 RBI.

It’s clear that both players are pretty good talents and even though it’s clear that Clement’s power potential sets him apart from the other catchers in the system, Johnson is at least a half year ahead of Clement in his development, particularly while donning the tool of ignorance.

Johnson is a strong defender with a plus throwing arm while Clement is below average in all areas, but is fully expected to easily reach acceptable levels in each category.

Clement’s bat may be less than a year away while his defensive game may be closer to two years from being major league ready.

Johnson’s glove may be ready by mid-2007 while his bat may not be ready until 2008.

So what do the M’s do with their two catchers?

If Clement’s development follows the expected path and timetable, he’ll have to cross paths with Johnson sometime in 2006. If Clement begins his 2006 season with Inland Empire and starts off hot and is making the necessary progress behind the plate, when does he get the 2-hour plan ride to join the San Antonio Missions?

When Clement gets that call, will Rob Johnson be ready for Triple-A Tacoma or will they share time? Splitting the catching duties between the two best catching prospects in the system makes little sense, since it curbs each player’s development.

for those expecting Clement to end the ‘06 season with a cup of coffee in Tacoma and to begin spring training in 2007 with a chance to break camp on the 25-man roster, I have four words for ya: Hold Your Trojan Horses.

The catching position is the one place on the field where minor leaguers have to defend their way to the big leagues. Typically, prospects have to prove their offensive worth, and as soon as they do, they are deemed major league ready.

The Catcher has to prove that he can handle the defensive duties before he is sent to the show. It’s going to take Clement a few years to get that call to the big leagues.

If I was making the decision, Clement would spent the entire year in the Cal League and Johnson would spend the entire season with San Antonio. And if the Missions made the Texas League playoffs and Inland Empire did not, I’d send Clement to San Antonio to split C/DH duties with Johnson.

There’s no reason to rush either player. Let them develop.

Posted in M's Draft, M's Top Prospects, Seattle Mariners | 1 Comment »