I had planned on getting this out prior to the conclusion of the World Series, not that the San Francisco Giants did me any favors, but it appears I am a few days late regardless. With the conclusion of the 108th World Series the 2012 Major League Baseball off-season is in full-swing and much like caroling during the holidays the off-season brings certain annual traditions to the forefront for Seattle fans. It's that time of year where the fan-base is split into two groups.
The first are pessimists at heart. This group believes Chuck Armstrong and the Seattle Mariners front office have never spent the appropriate amount of money to move deep into the postseason. Their belief is that spending $30-$45 million this off-season should ensure this club a winning season. After all, it works for the New York Yankees, right?
The second are optimists at heart. This group believes Jack Zduriencik has stocked one of the top minor league systems in baseball here in Seattle and they will continue to believe in the scouting reports and numbers posted by the youth. Their belief is that being patient in 2011, 2012, and 2013 leads to a successful 2014 season, led by the ‘The Big Three'.
Let's clear the air of a few things before we tackle which group is correct in moving forward as a winning ball club.
With Seattle vying to bring professional basketball and hockey into their city the Seattle Mariners may be on their way to a long awaited pay-day. Wonder why the Texas Rangers were able to sign Yu Darvish with little competition? Did it surprise you that the Los Angeles Angels won the bid for Albert Pujols? It shouldn't. Both of these occurrences came shortly after their affiliated clubs signed new Regional Sports Network (RSN) deals. Your typical RSN deal consists of two professional teams, both of whom agree to become part of a television network, allowing their games to be exclusively shown by that carrier. The Mariners have an opt-out clause with ROOT Sports in 2015; which just so happens to be one of the speculated dates of arrival for the professional sports we spoke of above.
Such a deal would escalate this team's payroll availability back towards the Top-5 in baseball with the financial resources and viewership to feel comfortable spending in that neighborhood. Whereas moving into 2013 there is no ensured RSN deal over the horizon to sustain topping $100 million in annual payroll if the ship is not righted this time around.
For those who value spending above all else there are a total of 13 Major League teams that have not fielded an annual payroll of $100 million in any season dating back to 2003, nearly half of baseball. In this time the Seattle Mariners have fielded above this amount twice, 2007 ($106 million) and 2008 ($117 million). Ten of these 13 teams have made the postseason since 2003, many of which have made repeat appearances. You don't necessarily need to spend to win.
For you strict optimists I say that putting your clubs stock heavily in the hands of a deep Minor League baseball system makes a great premise for a championship ball club, but it could also lead to a team full of Jose Cruz Jr. and Ryan Anderson types. Youth must be developed correctly, not just drafted, to carry their club into the postseason.
Which group is right, the pessimists or optimists? Both. The Mariners recent commitment to youth development allows this club the type of depth needed to bring in key contributors and begin to shape a balanced team.
Our 40-Man roster sits at 36/40 as I write this, due to the moves above. Outside of Kevin Millwood and Miguel Olivo the overall make-up of the Mariners roster outside 2013 didn't change. Kawasaki and Sherrill were not slated to return with the team.
Chuck Armstrong and the front office made a commitment to re-tool their Minor League system and it is nearing fruition. Remember when I said that both groups were correct above, about spending compared against youth? Here is where that comes in.
To place a degree of control over the amount of money a player is owed upon entering arbitration, which begins after three years of Major League service, organizations often place their ‘most talented' onto their 40-man roster prior to that player making his Major League debut. In doing so the ball club ensures that upon reaching arbitration they pay that players performance in a maximum of two years Major League service instead of a full three years, which in most cases would come at a higher price. There are a number of arms and bats in this minor league system the front office should focus on placing onto the 40-man roster during the 2013 season.
Another speed bump in filling these roster spots via the free agent market is every baseball nerd's favorite off-season activity, the Rule-5 Draft. Players who signed at 19 years of age or above with four years in their organization or those who signed at 18 with five years of time in the minor leagues are eligible, unless protected, to be selected by opposing clubs. This list for the Seattle Mariners includes 2011 Minor League Player of the Year Vinnie Catricala, 2012 Southern League Pitcher of the Year Brandon Maurer, and 2012 Arizona Fall League invitee Bobby LaFromboise not to mention James Jones, Rich Poythress, and others. These players must be placed on their team's 40-man roster prior to the draft to be protected from eligibility. If you protect Catricala, Maurer, and LaFromboise you are left with one 40-man roster spot using the team's current setup.
According to Geoff Baker of The Seattle Times the Mariners, prior to the Hisashi Iwakuma extension, were sitting around $60 million in guaranteed payroll. This marks a $35 million dollar drop from Opening Day 2011 and $22 million dollars lower than Opening Day 2012. Throw in Iwakuma's deal and the team is rumored to be around $66.5 million currently. According to many familiar with the worth of the club this team could support a payroll upwards of $100 million, but that would be an unlikely goal in my eyes. I would expect the club to cap around $90 million.
The Oakland Athletics had a question mark at all their outfield positions coming into 2012 with international signee Yoenis Cespedes entering his rookie season, recently acquired Josh Reddick, and oft-injured Coco Crisp. After a post-season appearance this season the team added Chris Young, ex-Diamondbacks outfielder, to the mix in a three-team trade. With long-time prospect Michael Taylor succeeding in Triple-A and slugging prospect Michael Choice knocking on their outfield ranks it is time for the Athletics to deal Crisp, who will be 33 throughout the 2013 season.
Crisp is cut from of the most crucial player molds in baseball history, the lead-off center fielder. He has been a scoring catalyst for the Athletics these past three seasons posting three of his four highest offensive WAR (Wins Above Replacement) numbers of his career while his numbers as a switch-hitter are legitimate (.277 vs. LHP/.272 vs. RHP).
I have written in the past of how important it is to not make mistakes in Safeco Field. It is a hard stadium to convert RISP situations and you need hard workers to get those runs around. Crisp is a hard worker. His batting average, on-base percentage, and stolen bases in September/October are significantly higher than other months of the season, he doesn't pack it in. The center fielder is 50th All-Time in Major League Baseball for stolen base percentage at 80.06 – 90.7 in 2012, 6th overall in baseball.
Being an American League player throughout his career Crisp has played 49 games at Safeco Field. Despite batting .254 in these games he has reached base at a .325 pace with 10 doubles, 27 runs scored, and 47 hits. In 269 games played in rival AL West stadiums the 33-year old is a .287 hitter with an OPS+ upwards of 114.
The guaranteed length of his contract reaches through the 2013 season with a 2014 team option, buyout of $1 million. Total contract obligations to reach $14.5 million (2013 -- $7 million, 2014 – $7.5 million).
The Athletics are in need of immediate help at shortstop. The team declined their option on Stephen Drew moving into 2013 and traded Cliff Pennington, their 2012 starter, in the Chris Young deal mentioned above. Billy Beane is constantly looking to make his organization younger and deeper, this is a metric where Seattle can meet their team needs head on.
I know what you are thinking, didn't he already state the Mariners would move Franklin and Paxton in a deal for Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus? (SUB) As the off-season has progressed the teams needs continue to become clearer. While I still believe the team would jump at the opportunity to control Andrus, I also believe the more likely move is to bring in an impact outfield bat.
The Los Angeles Dodgers 2012 season will be remembered for the deal that brought Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez to the club. An under the radar personnel move was the late-season resigning of slugger Andre Ethier. The club locked up the All-Star outfielder through 2018 with a deal worth $95.95 million.
The right-fielder has lived up to his second round selection in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft since day one, hitting .308 in his rookie season. Ethier is one of just 29 players since 2006 to take the field in over 1,000 games picking up two All-Star nominations (2010, 2011) and a Gold Glove (2011) along the way. His value is undeniable as he joins just 25 other players with a minimum of 3,500 plate appearances since his rookie season to bat over. 290.
Since 2008 Dodger Stadium has fallen below league average in hits and runs allowed when compared to the park averages of other stadiums. Despite this classification Ethier is a career .309/.378/.525 hitter at home. The only park in Major League Baseball that can compare to Safeco Field in hits, runs, and home runs allowed is AT&T Park in San Francisco. The slugger has hit .328/.393/.475 in 52 total games played at AT&T Park.
Ethier has totaled over 100 games played from six different spots in the lineup (2nd-7th). He has produced an OPS over .820 from all six while slugging over .460. This is a type of lineup versatility you rarely see from a player with 30+ home run power. He bats left-handed, which plays well into the atmosphere of Safeco Field.
His contract does not begin to peak until 2016, with $18 million due, shortly after the club is due to sign their RSN media deal.
Trading Ethier is not a pressing matter for the Dodgers. Potential suitors will have to meet the needs of the club if they are to wrangle the right fielder away. The Dodgers have few answers for a tough National League West on the right side of their infield. Hanley Ramirez will likely be a free agent following the 2014 season and promising youngster Dee Gordon struggled to a .228 batting average in 2012, their minor league system offers little in terms of shortstop talent before 2015. The Dodgers average pitcher age in 2012 was near the top of the league at 29-years old with a number of starters over the age of 33. This staff needs to get younger and put pieces around Clayton Kershaw to be successful into the future.
Alex Santana is scheduled to be Major League ready around the beginning of the 2016 season. MLB.com says of his ability to transition to third base from second base, "He should have the bat to profile just fine at the hot corner, though it may take him a while to grow into his power." The Mariners were stocked at third base the past few seasons with Liddi and Catricala both raking in the Minor Leagues while profiling well at third base. These predictions have since proven to not be as true as previously thought and the club would do well to acquire a future third base piece in their dealings this off-season. Santana has plus hands at the plate and in the field but is raw in many facets of the game, being a 2011 draft pick straight out of high school.
Seattle first baseman Mike Carp is out of options and posted the kind of numbers in 2012 that would be hard to justify offering the man a 25-man roster spot on such a young squad. A journalist with the Boston Globe confirmed that an anonymous National League scout called Carp, "a breakout candidate", following a potential trade this off-season.
Lombardozzi slides into the utility infielder role vacated by the departure of Munenori Kawasaki and Carlos Triunfel. Lombardozzi plays all infield positions and is known for putting together tough at-bats. He has struggled against left-handed pitchers but hit right-handers to a .292 pace this past season. Keep in mind the American League West was heavily built on right-handed rotation pitching in 2012, a trend that does not look to change with the addition of the Houston Astros.
Jhonatan Solano and his brother, Donovan, both made their Major League debuts in 2012. Jhonatan threw out 38 percent of runners with the Nationals this season and has a history of being reliable behind the plate. He hit .314 in his September call-up through 12 games played. Baseball has a history of ‘catching families' and the Solanos may very well be the next chapter in this story.
Hector Noesi and Blake Beavan did not flash enough ‘stuff' in 2012 to justify an Opening Day rotation nod in 2013, though I believe Beavan will be in long relief to start the season. Villanueva is an experienced pitcher, tossing 56 starts and appearing in a total of 301 games in seven years of Major League playing time. He has posted a 4.26 ERA with an impressive 571 strikeouts to 229 walks allowed (2.49 SO/BB) in his career. He earned $2.28 million in 2012 and should earn a bump to the $3.5 million dollar neighborhood in 2013.
Vargas allowed 35 home runs in 33 starts in 2012, un-settling the minds of many Mariners fans who await the wall dimension changes in 2013. He's an experienced left-hander who will cost the Mariners less money in a ‘re-up' deal rather than taking a stab at him on the market or looking elsewhere for a ‘#2/#3' arm. He will undoubtedly request, and deserves, to be placed above Iwakuma in payroll and could earn a 2-year deal at $7 million per season, no options.
With the assumed availability of Nick Franklin and Carlos Triunfel this off-season I find it hard to imagine a scenario where the Mariners do not bring back their current shortstop, Brendan Ryan. Though he did not ‘earn' Gold Glove honors this season, he was awarded the Fielding Bible Award at his position and in the eyes of many analysts if the top fielding shortstop in baseball. Ryan is entering his third and final year of arbitration, meaning the club will not have to sign him to a multi-year extension to keep him a part of the 2013 roster. Ryan is a .244 career hitter, following his .194 average in 2012, and does not project to repeat his dubious offensive numbers for the second season in a row. Arbitration, in this case, is a good way for the Seattle Mariners to keep control over a premium position for one more season while the minor league system develops further. With his bat outweighing his defense in arbitration talks I believe it wouldn't take much more than $3 million a season to keep him in Seattle.
Here is what all of the above means:
Total Payroll obligations from the 25-man roster: $88,550,000
Total 25-man oWAR (Offensive Wins Above Replacement): 17.3
Equaling a total of $5.12 million per oWAR point, above league average, but an improvement from 2012.
It would be wonderful if I was a modern day Nostradamus and ran the table with the scenarios above. I will settle for you, the reader, having a better idea of what the Mariners will be pursuing this off-season and what they have to sacrifice to achieve it.
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