Inside The Park

Baseball\’s Future in the Emerald City

Archive for the ‘Seattle Mariners’ Category

Probables, Injury Updates and Asdrubal Cabrera

Posted by JasonAChurchill on March 11, 2006

Cabrera impresses in field and at plate

Cabrera’s Bat is the Only Question Mark (Rattlers.com)

Looks like RHP Gil Meche will start a “B” game on Monday versus Texas in Surprise, as long as all goes well on Sunday with his oblique.

RHP Felix Hernandez will start today versus Texas, at PSC and LHP Jamie Moyer will go Monday versus LAA. Both starters are expected to go four innings or land in the 50-55 pitch range.

LHP’s Jared Thomas and Jason Mackintosh, and RHP Cibney Bello were in uniform for the game Saturday against Arizona. None fo the three entered the contest, however.

LHP Cesar Jimenez is still limited to bullpen sessions with a mild strain of his left hamstring. He’s expected to continue throwing in the pen until at least Tuesday. He could pitch in a game on Wednesday.

LHP Bobby Livingston continues to recover from a stiff neck suffered earlier in the week. He’s likely to pitch next weekend, probably in a “B” game. No truth to the rumor that Bobby hurt himself on Monday night as he continuously whipped his head around to check out the passing babes at the local bar. Well, maybe there is some truth to that.

2B Fernando Vina’s return was set for Sunday, but the veteran infielder is probably going to be held out until next Friday while he recovers from a hip flexor.

It’s time for Vina to hang it up. He has no chance whatsoever to make the big club…

SS Asdrubal Cabrera is opening eyes, however. He hit his first spring home run on Saturday and, as always, shined in the field impressing everyone from manager Mike Hargrove to Yuniesky Betancourt. Betancourt was overheard saying the spanish equivalent of “wow” after a play Cabrera made early in the contest versus Arizona.

Cabrera began the spring looking like he’d open the year as San Antonio’s starting shortstop, but he may be playing his way into a return to Triple-A Tacoma where he ended his 2005 campaign.

RHP Clint Nageotte’s pulled left hamstring is worse than originally diagnosed and the 25-year-old is taking it day-by-day. He’s throwing but not pitching and isn’t expected to do so until late next week.

The M’s have 11 hitters with a .300 average or better heading into Saturday’s action. Richie Sexson and Roberto Petagine are both 7-for-18 for a .538 average while Raul Ibanez (7-for-16, .438) and Shin-soo Choo (7-for-17, .412) are above the .400 mark. Matt Lawton (5-for-13, .385), T.J. Bohn (5-for-14, .357), Jeremy Reed (5-for-14, .357), Yuniesky Betancourt (5-for-15, .333), Mike Morse (4-for-12, .333), Willie Bloomquist (6-for-19, .316), and Matt Tuiasosopo (3-for-10, .300) round out the elite 11.

Bloomquist is day-to-day after receiving three stitches on his right pinkie finger after injuring the digit in the weight room on Thursday afternoon.

Not sure why Willie feels the need to stack on more plates…

Saturday was the first full-squad workouts for minor leaguers and the feeling has already set in for many. “Tedious, boring, yet necessary,” was the typical response to day one workouts.

One M’s minor league left-hander, who wishes to remain anonymous, claims, “I just get sick and tired of throwing perfect games against my own teammates. I don’t want them to hate me and they aren’t getting good batting practice that way, so, get on with it already.”

Posted in M's Top Prospects, Seattle Mariners, Spring Training | 3 Comments »

Joel Pineiro and Adrian Beltre Change My Mind, Sorta

Posted by JasonAChurchill on March 10, 2006

Joel Pineiro LookingFor Comeback Season
Many are liking what they saw out of Joel Pineiro this week as he tossed four innings allowing just one unearned run in the World Baseball Cup and even though I also thought he looked decent, I’m not going to get too excited, and neither should you.

Pineiro, even at his very best right now, is a No. 4 starter with occasional No. 3 ability. He’s not very good, nor should he ever be expected to be a frontline arm ever again. As David Cameron discusses Here at USSMariner, Pineiro is better than Meche in almost every way possible, but all that means that Pineiro is useful and Meche is not, which is among Cameron’s points.

At 27, Pineiro can still improve in some aspects, especially in the area of command and consistency. But he’s not going to re-discover a 95-mph fastball and the stamina and durbaility he displayed a few years ago when he looked like a No. 2 starter at the age of 24.

Think of Pineiro as the M’s version of Houston’s Brandon Backe.

With true TOR’s Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt in front of him, if Backe went six or seven decent innings, his club had a good chance to win, and because of the first three in the rotation, Backe didn’t feel any pressure to go eight scoreless every time out.

Pineiro’s six-plus inning outings are a bonus. It will likely mean that he surrendered somewhere between zero and four runs and threw a reasonable amount of pitches. Those efforts will give the Mariners a chance to win more ballgames than the right-hander’s typical 2005 starts did.

Pineiro’s start versus the Netherlands in game 2 of Puerto Rico’s World Cup schedule was a nice outing. He displayed solid control with his fastball, threw his curveball with confidence and even moved his pitches in and out, seemingly at will.

It was a solid first outing for any spring pitcher against any lineup… but oh, that lineup. The Netherlands have one big league bat in Andruw Jones, former major leaguers in Randall Simon and Eugene Kingsale and a group of AA equivalents – which is basically what he would have faced if he were back in the desert pitching for the M’s right now in the Cactus League.

So treat his WBC outing versus the Netherlands like he just went four innings versus the Milwaukee Brewers “B” squad.

His performance shouldn’t be taken as some sort of sign that he’s back, because he’s not, and never will be.

Like Backe, Pineiro is capable of getting things together to produce quality starts on a regular basis. He’ll appear to be a pretty good pitcher at times, and then turn around and look like Gil Meche. But he’s a capable No. 4 starter who could get the M’s 200 innings. Backe rides the fence of 200 innings, depending on how much he’s needed.

Some out there are saying, “Brandon Backe? He’s terrible, Pineiro is better than that!” If you are one of those, you’re wrong.

Backe’s 2005 FIP was 4.76 while Pineiro’s was 4.50. FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching, isn’t perfect, but those numbers suggest that Backe was .26 runs per nine innings worse than Pineiro, when fielding is removed from the equation. This in a hitter’s park versus Pineiro’s performances at the pitcher’s haven that is Safeco Field that surrendered 25% less runs, and homers, as did the Juice Box.

So basically, they are the same pitcher when it comes to runs allowed.

Be happy if Pineiro dips down to the low to mid-4’s in ERA, or perhaps better if he’s lucky. He’s actually useful with an ERA in that area, but unlike Backe, it won’t earn him and his teammates a trip to the World Series.

Why?

Because Jarrod Washburn, Jamie Moyer and Gil Meche do not equal three hall of fame talents that the ‘Stros had leading their staff a year ago.

Best case scenario — Pineiro’s command is back to where it was three years ago and he gives the M’s 200 innings and a low 4 ERA behind his improved K/BB rates and a K/9 rate that could get back into the mid-6’s.

Worst case scenario — Pineiro gets hurt early and because Nageotte and Foppert aren’t ready, the M’s call up Emiliano Fruto to the bullpen and Matt Thornton and Julio Mateo share the fifth spot for half the year. Put Pineiro down for a much better season than 2005, but don’t expect him to earn any more respect than a 4th starter should. That’s what he is, after all.

Beltre’s circumstances are different, to me, in that I actually believe that the adjustment’s he has made could bring a result closer to his 2004 numbers than some believed he was capable. No, he’s not likely to hit 40+ homers or even approach a .334 batting average. But get this…Beltre came to camp at 214 pounds, 12 pounds lighter than a year ago, a sign of hard work, desire and dedication. Good news there. He never made any excuses a year ago and only mentioned his lack of getting the job done. Another good sign.

The best news in Marinerland all spring is that Beltre has his confidence soaring right now. That’s not something you could say at any point thus far in his short M’s career. He struggled last spring, and never got things going during the season.With the Dominican team, he’s batting fifth for the most part, and has crushed three home runs in two games. Something he did just once last season with Seattle. What’s different? Beltre has altered his stance a bit, which is minor, but he’s also changed the action in his wrists and feet, which lead to him staying back on the ball and not lunging his upper body over the top of his lower body – movements that will drain power and induce strikeouts, pop ups and weak grounders.

Last year, Beltre tried desperately to hit the ball to righ field. In two games with DR, he’s driving the ball where it’s being pitched. If it’s middle-in, he’s pulling it. If it’s away, he’s shooting it into right and right-center.If you are looking for something to really get excited about in March, be excited that Adrian Beltre, who won’t be 27 until the first week of April, is dedicated to being a better hitter than he was in 2005 – and the adjustments that he and Jeff Pentland worked on really early in camp are paying off already.

Pencil Beltre in for 30 homers.

After not liking the timing of the WBC and still not watching it with any excitement, the cup may be providing both Pineiro and Beltre with a BETTER place to fix their games. Pineiro will get more innings and Beltre will get more ABs than either would have in Peoria at this stage of spring training.

Posted in Seattle Mariners, Spring Training | 14 Comments »

Spring Training Update: 3.07

Posted by JasonAChurchill on March 7, 2006

Some updated info from Peoria…

Injury ReportClint Nageotte has strained his left hamstring and will not pitch Wednesday… Fernando Vina took some infield today to test out his hip flexor… Cesar Jimenez’s bullpen session went fine and he should return to live action by Thursday… Both Gil Meche (oblique) and Bobby Livingston (stiff neck) played catch today. Livingston may make a start as early as Thursday or Friday… Chris Snelling will take batting practice on Wednesday to test his surgically repaired knee.

Probables – Sean Green takes Nageotte’s spot in Wednesday’s split-squad game versus Team Japan. Left-hander Luis Gonzalez will start ahead of right-handers Green, Emiliano Fruto and Dave Burba.
In the other game on Wednesday, LHP Jamie Moyer will start followed by RHP J.J. Putz, RHP Jeff Harris and LHP Travis Blackley against the San Francisco Giants.

On Thursday at Tucson Electric Park against the Chicago White Sox, RHP Jesse Foppert gets his second start and will be followed by RHP’s Scott Atchison, Yorman Bazardo and Renee Cortez.

Seattle’s .368 team natting average remains the top mark in either spring league and their 12.86 ERA (50 earned runs in 35 innings) is still the worst in the bigs during spring play.

Note of the Day: The Seattle Mariners have 60 players in camp and the total number on the spring roster is 63 after three players departed for their World Baseball Cup teams (Ichiro, Joel Pineiro and Adrian Beltre). But only 26 of the 63 were in camp with Seattle a year ago and only 22 made a big-league appearance in 2005.

Another Note: M’s analyst Ron Fairly collected his third career Hole-in-One earlier this winter on the third hole at Desert Horizon. It’s the second straight year he’s aced the 185-yard, third hole at the same course. Bith times Fairly used a five-iron.

Minor Stuff: Minor league pitchers and catchers begin workouts today with the first full-squad workouts starting on Saturday morning.

Posted in M's Top Prospects, Seattle Mariners, Spring Training | Leave a Comment »

Finishing Touches on Prospect Reports; Thoughts on Spring Training

Posted by JasonAChurchill on March 6, 2006

Ian Levin and I will be putting the finishing touches on InsideThePark.com’s 2006 Prospect Report with a quick Top 100 MLB Prospects countdown and then a look at the organizations in ranking order, 1-30.

We hope to get this done by the end of the week, so you could see the first set of 30 (30, 30, 30, 10) at some point before the weekend.

We all know wins and losses mean nothing during the Cactus League schedule, right?

I’m changing my mind.

Not that I’m freaking out over the M’s losing the first few games of ST, albeit very badly, but this club has to change the way they go about doing their business on the field.

They need to pick up their share of quality wins this spring, preferably later in the schedule when the games feature squads made up mostly of the regulars.

It’s obviously more important that they stay healthy and get their work in, but that will either happen or not, whether they win or lose.

They need to win some games and put together a three or four game win-streak, breeding confidence and some added comradery. Countless losses, and lopsided at that, are never good for the psychie of the club, regardless of when they occur.

Expect the front office to be very impatient early this season when it comes to making trades, call-ups and even with the trigger finger on Hargrove’s job. A slow start to the regular season may just mean Grover’s job. And as I have said before, don’t expect Ron Hassey, the current bench coach, to take over, even on an interim basis.

For two reasons, Hassey won’t get the gig.

1) Hassey is very loyal to Hargrove and though Hargrove would probably advise him to take it for the opportunity and the experience, Hassey will refuse it and look elsewhere – or keep his bench coach job til the end of the year.

2) The Mariners, and particularly Benny Looper, Lee Pelekoudas and to an extent Bill Bavasi, favor other in-house candidates such as Dan Rohn.

Who Bats Third?

Ideally, Adrian Beltre will go out and hit .300 with 35 homers and 120 RBI and become the pain in the neck to pitchers all over the AL that he was in LA in 2004. But that’s more a dream than anything and if Beltre goes for 280 and 25 homers, most would be happy. Raul Ibanez is probably going to get the call here, but I propose that Sexson and Ibanez switch spots.

Spring Probables

After Matt Thornton’s emergency start today for Bobby Livingston, Felix Hernandez gets the call tomorrow with RHP’s Rafael Soriano, Julio Mateo and Marcos Carvajal scheduled to get work also.

Also today: LHP George Sherrill, RHP Kevin Appierand LHP Jake Woods will see action on the mound.

On Wednesday, Jamie Moyer will start versus San Francisco with RHP Jeff Harris, RHP J.J. Putz and southpaw Travis Blackley slated to get work as well.

The M’s are split squad Wednesday with the second team taking on Team Japan. Right-hander Clint Nageotte will start that game with LHP Luis Gonzalez,RHP Dave Burba and RHP Emiliano Fruto set to get some work.

Heading into Monday’s action, the M’s led the cactus league with a .356 average (42-118). Eleven hitters are batting over .300… … but the team pitching staff is last in the league at 14.88. That’s 43 earned runs in 26 innings. The M’s have walked 17 and struck out just 13.

Injury Report2B Fernando Vina remains sidelined with a strained hip flexor. The clb is hoping he can get into a few games late this week… Even though Livingston is listed as today’s starter (Matt THornton was expected to take his place), he’s also expected to miss a day or two with stiff neck. Knowing Bobby, he probably sprained it looking at the hot Phoenix chicks as they drove by in their flashy cars… OF Wladimir Balentien is participating in workouts but his strained right hamstring will keep him out of games for the time being… Chris Snelling’s recovery is still ahead of schedule, but he will not be allowed to run much and is being limited to half sessions of BP and very little defensive drill action… LHP Cesar Jimenez has a mild hamstring strain, but came into today expecting to throw a bullpen session.

Posted in Seattle Mariners, Spring Training | 6 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 »