And so, at long last, the July 31 Trade Deadline of 2001 is over. It was a month that lasted four years and 102,714 angrily-hammered clicks of Dr. D's mouse. But at last, the Mariners proved us wrong. Marquee Players Need Apply.
Our souls have been cleansed in the pure rainwater of "The Bavasi Doctrine." Let's all cheerily move on from the bitter, partisan argument over the limp-noodle "pennant chases" - to a bitter, partisan argument over whether we paid too much for our 40-homer defensive whiz.
For four years, we sat breathlessly like the Tricycle Kid in Mr. Incredible's driveway, hoping for "something a-MAZ-ing, I guess!," amazing being defined (by Pat Gillick) as Aaron Boone.
Having trudged through the sand dunes for four years, we M's fans now sit on Stars & Scrubs wormsign the likes of which Paul Muad'dib never saw.
In A Multitude Of Counselors There Is Safety, Dept:
Once upon a time, a future 800-HR man visited the inventor of Aikido to ask his, um, batting advice. O-Sensei smiled tranquilly, as O-Senseis are wont to do.
"Don't try to anticipate the speed of the ball. Let it arrive at its own pace; then be there to greet it." (Apparently, O-Sensei declined to reveal whether it is good to bunt with two on and none out.)
O-Sensei, or a fortune cookie, or Rod Carew, or somebody, gifted Sadaharu Oh with the ability to (1) relax into his swing, and to (2) "see the ball, hit the ball" without overguessing. O-Sensei's wisdom inspired a generation of Japanese hitters.
Say what? Sadaharu Oh ask a martial artist for hitting? Hai, amigo. The laws of the Tao are the same in every sports universe; it's just that they wear different clothes to different restaurants.
The point? You could learn somethin' from other sports. Things carry across.
No Worries, Mate, Dept:
Like O-Sensei, kinda, chess masters have been used by the U.S. Department of Defense, by Wall Street stock companies, and in the extreme, even by Seattle Mariner chat boards to analyze problems unrelated to chess. Grandmaster Reuben Fine was used in the ‘40's to anticipate Soviet military planning, with outstanding results.
Chess masters have unique systems-analysis skills that apply to many situations. Most notably, the situation of being crouched in a roach-infested $18 hotel room trying to figure out how to mate with bishop and knight.
I dunno where we could talk to a tournament chess master, cough-drdetecto-cough, but let's say we could. The chess player's-eye view on the Seattle Mariners might broaden our horizons.
On the other hand, do we really want to see rotisserie baseball combined with tournament chess? I'm thinkin' we get sucked into a Hi-Grav Super Dweeb Worm Hole and it unravels the fabric of the universe.
Ah, that's okay. Somebody tried the first A-Bomb, right?
Every Boxer Has A Plan Until The First Punch, Dept:
So your bright-eyed, bushy-tailed chess student – yes, he has an M.D. and three kids - comes back from his first tourney having scored a perfect 0-6. No wins, no draws, six losses. And if he hadn't been playing fifth-grade girls, it could have been genuinely ugly.
"What was I supposed to do here?" he wails, setting up a position that makes your stomach do a slow roll to the left. "She had a wall of pawns coming down the center! My rooks got caught in her pawn grinder and she sat there smirking at me! I challenged her to step outside and when she did, I chickened out!" Dr. Student is on the verge of tears.
Disgusted, you review the obvious. "Come on," you moan. "We've been through the Pawn Wrecker Picket Fence Plan a hundred times. All you do is, "
1. Identify and block the tactical threats
2. Keep the lines closed, not allowing pawn trades
3. Face off her piece centralization and equalize your piece activity with hers
4. Synthesize DNA
5. Hit yourself with a gene-therapy IQ booster shot. In your case, make it a large one
6. Knock holes in the pawn phalanx
7. Use the square weaknesses to activate your own pieces
8. With your superior piece activity, go on the attack, using your attack subroutine
"It couldn't be simpler, except that phase seven takes a bit of finesse. What's the problem?"
How far did he get on his checklist?! You guessed it!
Dr. Student never even got to bungle up phase one. He was too busy swatting at the buzzing bishops and knights flying around his King like angry wasps. His plans never got off the ground.
As they say in boxing, everybody has a plan until the first punch is thrown. Chaos imposes itself on order. Even the sun can't escape entropy; why should Pat Gillick's roster have expected a different fate?
You had precisely the same experience the first time that you tried to run a set play in organized basketball. Or the first time you argued with your wife, right?
Dr. Coherency and His Good Friend, Dr. Clarity, Dept:
No chess amateur (or rookie Dodger GM) can actually execute the plans that he practices at home. If a chess player could execute the plans that he draws up – despite the buzzing bishops and knights – he'd cease to be a chess amateur and he'd become a "chess master."
So, why does he practice the master-class plans at home? To get his mind off the games he played against the fifth-graders (or the recruiting mismatch against Bill Bavasi, as the case may be). And to get his mind off arguments with his wife, which as we know, can inflict similar levels of pain.
The same is true in the Fortune 500 world. Any gumby can draw up a good business plan on paper. The man who is worth his five million per, bab-eh, is the man who can make that plan happen.
It's all about execution, amigo. And in Seattle, our GM can ‘Git ‘R Done.'
But He Wouldn't LET Me Execute My Plan!, Dept:
Pat Gillick didn't go into those soul-draining, go-home-tail-between-the-legs July 31's with the intention of protesting that "we tried". It's just that making his plan happen always had a cost associated! And that cost was too high. So, toodle-oo, plans.
Hey, don't sweat it, Pat. Dr. Chess Student always tells us the same thing. The plans are too hard. They won't let ya. We know.
Paul DePodesta didn't start out with a 35-year-old SS at the top of his 2004-05 spreadsheet, especially one whose BB/K ratio has gone from .56 to .43 to .31 in the last five years.
DePodesta didn't start the winter intending to sign a 1.5 K/BB pitcher to a $36M contract. There's no way in the world that Jose Valentin and Derek Lowe and Jeff Kent were anywhere to be found on DePo's Nov. 1, 2004 spreadsheet.
But hey, you get to talking to a bunch of those agents, and your phone lights go haywire like Tom Cruise's in Jerry Maguire, and next thing you know it's either $9M per to an average pitcher, or the music stops and there are no chairs at all.
If Bill Bavasi was going to take the fight to the market, he needed choices. Good choices. He masterly set up a variety of Stars-and-Scrubs permutations, including Glaus, Beltre, Sexson, Delgado, Beltran, and others. But while keeping those options open, Bavasi had to stay coherent with his plan.
Never did Bavasi wimp out and go for Rich Aurilia because Miguel Tejada cost $1.10 on the dollar. And Dr. Detecto couldn't be prouder, amigo.
When Adrian Beltre signed with the Mariners, no one's jaw dropped wider than Paul DePodesta's. "This time there was a sense of urgency with Scott," DePo mumbled, surprised. Yeah, Paul, there was a sense of urgency with Scott. That was because the Seattle Mariners' GM controlled the 2005 free agent market. And you.
Stars & Scrubs Dept:
A chess amateur, seeing a chessmaster move his Bishop back one square, will pull a sour face. "What's that lemon do? It doesn't attack a thing!"
But the chessmaster does not think in terms of single moves. The chessmaster thinks in terms of schemes. He thinks in terms of blocks of moves, 5 at a time, strung end-to-end, clashing and synch'ing with one another. He NEVER looks at a single move in isolation!
A Roto amateur, looking at Richie Sexson, might pull a sour face and ask "Sexson? Couldn't we have done something better with $12 million? Like upgrade the Safeco suite toilet flippers from gold to platinum, or buy four more Randy Winns, or something?"
But the chessmaster wants to know only one thing: "Did the plan happen! C'MON C'MON C'MON! Did you insist on your plan! Did your plan occur on the board, or did it not?"
Going into this winter, Dr. D had one question. Would the 2005 Mariners be buff-er by two – not one, but two - cleanup hitters? Or would they not?
Slap me silly, Padna. Bill Bavasi had exactly the same question that we did.
If He Says Hit The Ball To The Right Side One More Time, YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO OFFICER!, Dept:
Bill James was once asked about stolen bases. He wryly allowed that they were fine, except that they didn't have much to do with winning.
He noted, "Stolen bases, advancing runners, all that stuff is worth keeping track of – but it isn't the big difference in baseball. The big difference in baseball is between being safe, or being out."
The big difference between the 2004 and 2005 Mariners wasn't going to be, was their center fielder 23 years old, or 28 years old. It wasn't going to be, was their #5 starter Ryan Franklin, or was it Travis Blackley.
The big difference between the 2004 and 2005 Mariners was going to be, did they get marquee hitters for the #3 and #4 slots, or did they not!
With Stars in the 1-3-4 slots in the lineup, Bill Bavasi can now advance to Phases B and C. He has executed one scheme, and sits on a juicy position ready to execute the next scheme.
Sexson's and Beltre's contracts cannot be judged in a vacuum. They must be assessed in terms of the way in which they set up the rest of the roster.
Hercules "YOU Fight A Hydra With 12 Heads," Dept:
In the day of Pat Gillick, the 25 Honda Civics were all making big dollars and all 25 of them had sections of Safeco devoted. Upgrade Dan Wilson? Trade Mike Cameron? Release John Olerud? All impossible. The parts were not changeable.
But now? We dare you to name any present Seattle Mariner except Ichiro-Beltre-Sexson who is guaranteed to be here on April 1! G'head, g'head, we dare ya.
The Stars & Scrubs roster strategy is dynamic, it is living, it is vital. Pat Gillick's roster was static and lifeless, and that is why he (wisely) bailed as the hair of his roster turned frosty white.
Passing on Richie Sexson, and pouring $12M a year into three Ibanez-type Honda Civics or – shudder – "back into the ballclub," let's say, for scouts to dodge tarantulas in the Outback? It woulda been the organizational equivalent of a no-outs grounder to the right side with a man on second.
It woulda been chicken feathers. It woulda been the 62-year-old Pat Gillick.
When Is A Scrub Not A Scrub?, Dept:
A chess master goes on the attack NOT with a single naïve threat, hoping his opponent will overlook the cheapo.
A chess master attacks only when his pieces are swarming like locusts – and then he attacks with bad intentions, bab-eh. A chessmaster's attack is a many-headed hydra and if you lop off Head #3, then you've turned your back on Head #6 and you are a kipper snack, amigo.
Bill Bavasi has the American League's best trip-set of franchise position players. Sitting on a juicy position, Bavasi's attack on the Scrubs half of the roster will be a many-headed hydra.
Take out a sharpened #2 pencil. Anybody for an office grid? OK, the 2005 Mariners' next major improvement will be:
AL West GM's might be able to stop one or two or six of Bavasi's avenues to roster upgrade, but they will not be able to stop ALL of Bavasi's options now. There are too many ways that that the ballclub can improve.
Teal Day, 2004, Dept:
One of the best-known Ty Cobb legends took place after a rookie catcher laughed at Cobb after a strikeout. "So that's the great Georgia Peach," the catcher sneered at Cobb.
Cobb, a big man for his day, wheeled and pinned the rookie with a malevolent stare. "Listen, bush," Cobb promised darkly, "I'm going to get on, and when I do I'm coming around." Cobb stomped off.
Later in the game, Cobb was on second bases. Oh, nooooo, there's the short single to left. Cobb's cap landed in the stands somewhere around third base and, happily for the sadistic Cobb, the ball beat him to the plate by 15 feet. Cobb took to the skies, sharpened spikes leading the way like the radar nose on a AWACS jet. The catcher went one way, the baseball went another, and Cobb scored the run.
The catcher lay in the dirt, his thigh cut, blood all over the place. Cobb got up, straddled the catcher and leisurely brushed his dirt off on the poor guy. And offered, compassionately, "Yes, you fresh busher, that was the great Georgia Peach."
There was the other rook catcher, one with a gun for an arm, who came into Detroit bragging. "Cobb won't dare run on me," he boasted for all to hear, especially Cobb, "and if he does he's a dead duck."
Ty Cobb got on base in the first game. Ty Cobb immediately called time. Ty Cobb strolled to home plate and, in a barely-contained rage, announced to the catcher that he was going to steal second, third, and home.
He did, too, and he stole two other bases that day.
It Ain't Hype If It's True, Dept:
Teal Day was June 27, 2004. It was the day that Bill Bavasi traded his rent-an-ace, Freddy Garcia, for two talented scrubs, Jeremy Reed and Miguel Olivo, which players right now comprise 22% of the Seattle 2005 Opening Day lineup.
Much more important than that (fabulous) trade, was Bill Bavasi's defiant, Cobb-like glare as he sat down to the press conference that followed. He brushed off the fact that he'd just landed the Baseball Prospectus #2 prospect of 2004. His eyes were scanning the highway 12 seconds ahead.
"The biggest names, the names the fans would be thinking of, those are the names that we will be going after," growled Bill Bavasi on Teal Day 2004.
Did anybody doubt those words, in June 2004? Hey, one week before Bavasi hauled the whales into the 99-loss boat, Lou Piniella (and the Seattle ‘net) was laughing at Bavasi, "Well, it's gonna be tough. We can't get the big free agents to come to Tampa, either."
In your face, Lou. Here the Seattle Mariners sit, with three franchise players who are (1) marquee hitters, (2) all 30 or younger, (3) all great, not good, defensive players, (4) great guys and great organization guys, (5) not pitchers and therefore not 25-50% risks to waste your money, (6) signed at nowhere near market-setting rates, in terms of either salary or years.
For a city that spent years watching an old, tired GM's (weak!) plans collapse at the lightest shove to the shoulder? You would think this city would know a Ty Cobb when it saw one.
We are very pleased to announce the fact that the 2005 Mariners WILL report to training camp with Stars & Scrubs roster. The M's will report with a roster that is dynamic, exciting, and bursting with possibility.
Yes, you fresh busher, that was Bill Bavasi. Get used to him.