Sunday, August 29, 2004

Potpourri

I am back from a week of camping at Pearrygin Lake State Park, a now-thrice-annual trek during which I have missed the Mariners losing 15 of 20 games -- a particularly dubious achievement considering that, even including this year's horrible 49-80 record, the Mariners are 18 games over .500 since the beginning of the 2002 season, and 27 over if you don't count their record during my camping trips. I used to feel guilty about that, as though I were personally causing their losing streaks by my inattention, but nothing in this god-forsaken year can make me feel guilty.

Anyway, I'm back and feel the need to resort to the trusty "bullet-point" potpourri column to say all I have to say -- especially since Jack already took this route a couple of days ago.

  • I agree with Jack about Dan Wilson. He seems like a terrific guy, a clubhouse and community leader and all that, but what's he offering on the field? Wilson fans pointed this year to his first 6-7 weeks or so (topping out on May 19 at .320 but still with a sub-.800 OPS of .795), but since then he has hit at the sub-Mendoza rate of .195. He barely broke through for a .500 OPS in May (.504), and he hasn't even done that since (.438 in July and .483 thus far in August -- hell, Ichiro! nearly beat those OPS totals with his batting average alone in July and August). According to Baseball Prospectus, Dan Wilson's adjusted "equivalent average" is .022 worse that his actual batting average (.225 to .247) and his "value over replacement player" or VORP is -3.9 (yep, that makes him worse than freely available replacement talent at his position, despite making $4.5M). I've touched on this before, but Dan Wilson is not the defensive catcher he once was. At his best now, he is probably no better than league average defensively and no amount of imagined defensive prowess is going to make up for a sub-.500 OPS.
  • Dan Wilson will be 36 years old next year -- ancient for a catcher, especially one who has played 1250 games. It is insane to be talking about re-signing Wilson for any significant role next year, particularly since Wilson and Miguel Olivo share the offensive Achille's Heel of being unable to hit right-handed pitching. Yes, I think Wilson has experience and game-tested wisdom to share with Olivo, but unless he is willing to do so for something close to league minimum, it's just not worth using a roster spot on him. Better to hire him as a bullpen coach or something and go sign a replacement-level catcher with some upside who can hit right-handed pitching.
  • Ichiro! Update: I wrote about Ichiro's chances for breaking George Sisler's single season record for hits not long ago, and despite a bit of a blip (0-11) before getting his 200th hit, he has done little to damage those chances. With 32 games left to play, Ichiro! has 209 hits. With three more hits today, if he continues to get the same number of at-bats as he has through this season (about 4.43 AB/G) and hits at his seasonal pace (.3686) the rest of the way, he'll get another 142 ABs and 52 hits -- which would break Sisler's record by four hits. Considering that this would mean Ichiro! needs fewer than 50 hits (48 minus however many he gets on Tuesday in Toronto) in September -- a feat he has achieved in three of five months this season -- and that he slows his second-half pace considerably, I wouldn't bet against him. Ichiro! has truly had a remarkable season. He's earned that exclamation point.
  • I have to disagree with Jack's speculation that the "performance" of the two third-basemen the Mariners are paying some $10M this year might make the Mariners front office pine for David Bell. Well, at least I wouldn't be pining for him . . . the Mariners' "talent evaluators" might. Jack seems to suggest that a 3-year, $9M contract for Bell, coming off a 93 OPS+ year, was reasonable. I say that the $1.75M 1-year deal he got from the Giants in 2002 was far closer to what Bell's market value was. By the way, Bell rewarded the Giants with a decent-but-still-close-to-league-average year in 2003, which got him a bloated four-year $17M contract with the Phillies (which he prompted rewarded with a .195/.296/.283 year in 2003). Uhhhh, no thanks . . . not even if I knew he would rebound this year. Even people with Jeff Cirillo and Scott Spiezio voodoo dolls in their basement couldn't have imagined how badly each would underperform expectations. Granted, my expectations for both of those guys were much worse than what the Mariners thought they would do, but they have still been much worse than even that. Bell has at times been both a fair bit better and quite a bit worse than I would have expected in his post-2001 years, but on the whole, has shown every bit of why the Mariners were looking to improve at third base after the 116 season. I might fault their choices (I would have pursued a Scott Rolen trade much more seriously than the M's did in 2002, and I probably would have resigned myself to either Jolbert Cabrera, Willie Bloomquist, or Justin Leone (or some combination thereof) at 3B this year rather than overpay Spiezio for three years beginning with his age 31+ year, knowing going in that he is a career 98 OPS+ hitter, and then pursued somebody better for 2005 (Adrian Beltre, Troy Glaus, Corey Koskie, Bill Mueller . . . well, Koskie and Mueller are kinda old, but both would be significant improvements over what we've had, and the point is there are free agent options out there for third base). Let's not mistake the shit stains on our glasses from 2002-2004 for rose-color when remembering David Bell.
  • I believe -- it's actually something closer to faith than belief -- that Edgar Martinez will finish with a flourish. That is, unless Bob Melvin continues to overthink his line-up into playing guys like Willie Bloomquist and Jolbert Cabrera over Edgar when facing middlin'-to-bad lefties Edgar can still mash. Edgar is hitting .308/.403/.430 in the second half. Granted, the OBP is a bit worse and the SLG quite a bit worse than what we have come to expect from Edgar, but he's 41, and more importantly, who the hell outside of Ichiro! and maybe Randy Winn has been better after the All-Star Break? Is their any reason to sit this guy much through his Farewell Tour? And don't give me that "getaway day" crap -- Willie Bloomquist??!? Are we not past thinking that Wee Willie is much better than this year's model Charles Gipson?
  • I guess from what I've already said that it's pretty easy to know where I stand on Jack's comments about Bloomquist. I actually sympathize with Willie's comments to the effect that the Mariners seem far more willing to give late-20s guys like Leone and Bucky Jacobsen an everyday chance, but realistically, Bloomquist never had the success in the minors that either of those guys did, nor has he shown in any extended playing time that he deserves to be thought of as anything more than a replacement-level utility guy (or worse). Willie Bloomquist has now played in 176 major league games, and has 388 ABs. His career averages are .265/.323/.340. That's just about league average for batting average, and significantly worse than league average for OBP and SLG. Bloomquist is basically an average singles hitter who can't overcome that with patience at the plate or any kind of power. He also doesn't make up for it with good defense at any position. Like Mark McLemore, his strength is decent speed and an ability to play at something approaching league average at several positions, but he doesn't get on base at nearly the clip Mac did for most of his Seattle tenure, nor is he a switch-hitter who offers a real platoon advantage, as Mac was and did against RHP. Willie's most natural position is probably second base, but he is not going to displace Bret Boone next year, and after that, the job is probably Jose Lopez's to lose. If his offense was better, maybe . . . but it's not.
  • I am ambivalent about the idea of trying to acquire Wilson Betemit to play third next year. Sure, take a flier on him if he doesn't cost much to get and you want to create competition among (say) Leone, Bloomquist, Betemit and Greg Dobbs for the 3B job in camp next year, but I don't think a switch-hitting former shortstop with a mostly failed AAA resume' and next to no power is the answer. Yes, this team needs more speed (though Betemit's 16-for-26 record as a base-stealer in AAA makes one wonder if he comes with speed but little baserunning sense), but it needs more power even more than that and third base is one position where you can usually find it.
  • I think even "the Grand Pooh-Bah of the Raccoon Lodge" would see the wisdom of trading Bret Boone for Kevin Youkilis. But why would the Red Sox entertain such a trade? Granted, Mark Bellhorn and Pokey Reese are not particularly appetizing choices at 2B for the stretch run this year, but their numbers aren't really worse than Boone's. In fact, Bellhorn's are better. Youkilis is the reason the BoSox can afford to let Bill Mueller walk after this year. Why give up your future at 3B in a trade for an aging 2B due to make $9M next year and who isn't outperforming who you already have? Don't blame Moneyball for this trade not happening; blame Theo Epstein for having the brains to realize it would be a dumb idea.
  • I would never criticize somebody for holding onto the idea that once-highly-thought-of prospects might be the kind of guys on whom to take fliers in lost seasons, Jack. You have to wonder, though, if all of the injuries Alex Escobar has suffered have taken their toll. Also, Escobar is out for the season with a broken right foot. Unless he came cheap and then was put on the 60-man DL, the Mariners are better served by using the 40-man roster to look at deserving guys in their own system, and/or using extra spots on the 40-man to claim guys like Brett Evert, who O.D. of USSM likes and whom the Rainiers can actually use to try to win their division.
  • I share Jack's lament about fans' negative overemphasis on the strikeout, and pining for Mike Cameron. Cammy was always one of my favorite guys, and not just for his defense. On a team with little speed and little power, Cammy brought both, with patience at the plate and Gold Glove defense in CF to boot. The strikeout is often a necessary byproduct of power and patience in all but the most superhuman of ballplayers. In my view, all outs are created equal. True, some "productive outs" (what and idiotic, oxymoronic term that is) are made by putting the ball in play and advancing a runner, but there is also the risk of the double-play, which pretty well offsets this. I'd rather take Cammy's strikeouts and plus-.800 OPS any day than settle for some "productive out" machine.
  • That said, there was a reasonable case to be made last offseason that it was time for Mike Cameron to leave. Right or wrong, the majority of fans were very frustrated with Cammy's Safeco Field foibles . . . how much patience do you think fans would have had with him and the front office if, in addition to the team stumbling out to a 23-36 record, Cameron had started the season here as he did in New York, and found himself hitting .193 with a .642 OPS as late as June 11? In my opinion, the real mistake made by the Mariners was not in deciding to let Cammy go (especially given what the Mets were willing to pay him) but in failing to realize that they needed to replace his defense in CF with something other than noodle-armed Randy Winn. If nothing else, the answer still stares them in the face: play Ichiro! in center, Winn in left, and Raul Ibanez' in right. Take advantage of Ichiro's range and arm, minimize the damage Winn's arm can do, and play Ibanez' at his most natural outfield position, where his lack of range is best hidden and his decent arm better utilized.
  • Derek Zumsteg is all worked up about the "temporary" (. . . ahem) seats the Mariners have erected in the Centerfield Landing, and frankly I can think of no better person to hound the Mariners and beat some sense of accountablity into Lincoln & Friends than DMZ. I know of no one who has taken a stronger interest in calling the Mariners on their financial deceptions and public bullying than Derek. That the Mariners have trashed one of the coolest parts of Safeco Field, ultimately at public expense, without consulting the public or any seeming oversight by the PFD, is unconscionable. Stay on this one, Derek. I'll be right beside you.

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