Inside The Park

Baseball\’s Future in the Emerald City

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…

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One Response to “Competition is at Wrong Position”

  1. Cash said

    as-94783-sa

    nice blog.. i ll come back again :] greets

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