What’s Werth Worth: Nats Makes Big, If Expensive, Free Agent Splash.

Jayson Werth is good, but is he $127 million good? The Nats seem to think so.

In a move that every general manager except Bill Bavasi (who tweeted that the deal was “just about right”) found utterly baffling, the Washington Nationals signed free agent right-fielder Jayson Werth to a 7-year, $126 million dollar (for those mathematically challenged readers, that’s $18 million per year) contract.

Yes the Nationals have to overspend on free agents because they’ve long been a doormat in the NL East, and yes Jayson Werth is one of the top five players on the market this offseason, but he’s also on the wrong side of 30 and more likely to contend for the WWE Heavyweight Title Belt than an MVP at the tail-end of the contract.

Werth is coming off back-to-back solid seasons for the Philadelphia Phillies (the first two full seasons of his career) in which he averaged 31 HR’s, 92 RBI’s, 17 SB’s and 102 runs (leading to a WAR of 5.2, 8th best in the NL, in 2010). The lanky outfielder is a classic 5-tool player whose combination of power, speed and defense makes him one of the most well-rounded players in the league. No one doubts Werth’s talent, and he’s certainly an upgrade over the Roger Bernadina/Jason Maxwell combo in right field, but he’ll be 32 in May and scouts worry that Werth’s best days may already be behind him. That’s not to say he won’t be productive the next few seasons (though Philadelphia is a hitter friendly park whereas Nationals Park is closer to neutral) but how will he produce in 2015, 2016 or 2017 (assuming the Mayans are wrong) when he’s in his late 30’s and still making $18 million a year?

It’s understandable that the Nationals wanted to make a move to appease their fan base after another dreadful season in 2010 but this contract could be a major albatross for the organization in a few years when Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg develop and the team is ready to challenge for the division. It’s not quite Richie Sexson bad, but Werth’s contract isn’t far off, and it doesn’t make the team much more competitive than they were in 2010.

All the deal really accomplishes is adding to the National(s) deficit. How fitting…

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Deal With the Devil: Will Seattle Regret Not Trading Cliff Lee to the Yankees and What Is Josh Lueke’s Future in Seattle?

Will Josh Lueke ever be allowed to pitch for the Mariners? Should he be?

If you haven’t been paying attention to the Mariners lately (instead choosing to enjoy life and not indulge in masochistic urges) it’s likely that you missed the latest controversy surrounding the team–and it has nothing to do with play on the field.        

Flashback to July, when the Mariners had a deal in place to trade Cliff Lee to the New York Yankees for a package of prospects including top-hitting catcher Jesus Montero, only to nix the trade at the last-minute in order to take a “better” offer from division rival Texas. At the time it seemed like a major coup for the Seattle front office, as they acquired powerful switch-hitting first baseman Justin Smoak and a former first round pick in pitcher Blake Beaven. However, after the initial euphoria lifted, things quickly began to unravel.        

One of the lesser known players in the trade, reliever Josh Lueke, had been convicted of a horrific crime–one that the front office was apparently clueless about (despite the fact that a simple Google search would bring up the information from Lueke’s case). Team president Chuck Armstrong and general manager Jack Zduriencik both claimed not to know the extent of Lueke’s criminal record, even though former pitching coach Rick Adair said he told the front office everything he knew about Lueke on and off the field. This set off a back and forth between the Seattle front office (who claimed to have been misled by the Rangers) and Texas (who stated that Lueke’s background was common knowledge and that they had offered to take him back) and eventually led to the firing of professional scouting director Carmen Fusco, a personal hire of Zdurinciek and a 35-year baseball veteran. Selling Fusco as the scapegoat didn’t quell the controversy though, and serious questions continue to linger about the M’s front office and the future of Jack Zdurienciek in Seattle.   

There’s no denying that Lueke is a talented pitcher (5-2, 1.86 ERA and 94 K’s in 63 innings at three minor league stops in 2010) but there are plenty of questions surrounding the Mariners’ decisions making in the process and what Lueke’s role with the organization will be moving forward. Seattle certainly needs help in the bullpen (apologies to Chris Seddon and Jamey Wright) but is bringing aboard a pitcher with Lueke’s history worth the potential damage to the organization’s reputation–especially an organization that has been so outspoken about domestic violence? The team had a chance to call-up Lueke when rosters expanded but balked at the opportunity, likely due to the outrage surrounding the “discovery” of his crimes. Will the response of fans be any different if the Mariners wait until next season to promote Lueke?  

Despite the fact that Lueke has paid his debt to society (spending 40 days in jail), it doesn’t change what he’s done and it won’t change how he’s viewed by fans and the community. If the organization knew about his past and still completed the trade with Texas it’s clear that the Mariners puts winning above all else, and if that’s the case,  they had better start winning (maybe we could become the baseball version of the Cincinnati Bengals). If Seattle truly didn’t know about Lueke’s criminal record (highly, highly unlikely) then the organization still has a responsibility to be upfront with their fan base about the situation and act accordingly, even if that means trading away or cutting Lueke. The Mariners made a colossal P.R. mistake by bringing aboard Lueke and the organization needs to act fast in order to save face–this isn’t an issue that will just go away if it’s ignored. 

No matter how this issue plays out, it’s clear that the Seattle front office isn’t the model of perfection we though it was, and that Jack Zduriencik might not be the man to lead the Mariners back to the playoffs. This whole firestorm could have been avoided if Seattle had just followed through on their trade with New York, but it appears that by trying to burn the Yankees, the Mariners torched themselves. 

Only time will tell…

Salt in the Wound: Blue Jays’ Brandon Morrow Loses No Hitter, But Raises Doubts About Mariners’ Front Office Decision Making.

Did the Mariners give up on Brandon Morrow too early? It looked that way on Sunday.

This time last season Seattle fans were wearing “In Jack We Trust” t-shirts, petitioning the organization to construct a statue of new GM Jack Zduriencik in front of Safeco Field and writing in his name for governor of Washington.

What a difference a year makes.

Though Brandon Morrow fell just short of a no-hitter on Sunday afternoon against the Rays, his sterling 17 strikeout, one-hit performance still took some of the sheen off Zduriencik’s head and Seattle’s shiny new Bill Bavasi-less front office. Morrow was shipped to Toronto during the offseason in return for power reliever Brandon League who was supposed to bridge the gap between Seattle’s starting pitchers and closer David Aardsma. League hasn’t been bad (8-6, 3.16 ERA) but has consistently faltered in high-leverage situations, and despite a reputation as a flamethrower, has only struck out 40 batters in 57 innings.

The number five overall pick in the 2006 draft, Morrow was flipped from the starting rotation to the bullpen to Triple-A and back again so many times, it’s a wonder he doesn’t have multiple personalities. While the current regime can’t be blamed for the mismanagement of Morrow early in his career, they certainly can be accused of giving up on the young ace too early.

The 26-year-old Morrow is 9-6 on the season, with a 4.45 ERA (a number which would almost certainly be lower if he was pitching at Safeco Field) and 151 strikeouts in 127 innings (a league leading 10.67 K’s/9 innings). A full season in the starting rotation has done wonders for Morrow’s confidence and he’s started to hit the strike zone with more consistency. If he can continue to cut down on the walks and pitch deep into games, Morrow has the potential to become a staff ace in the mold of Bert Blyleven.

With their pitching staff in shambles (Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas are Seattle’s only reliable starters) the Mariners can use all the arms that they can get. Who do you suppose they would rather have right now: an average middle reliever with a propensity for big innings, or an up-and-coming starter with the makings of a future star?

I’m not giving up on Zduriencik and Co., but a 42-70 record and scores of Mariners (Beltre, Silva, Thorton, etc.) finding success elsewhere don’t make it easy to believe things are going to chance anytime soon.

Is it football season yet?

A Love Story Renewed: Russell Branyan Returns to the Mariners.

The Brawny Paper Towel Man is hoping to bring some power to an anemic lineup.

Casey Kotchman is bad, real bad. Michael Jackson.  

Now Mariners’ fans are mad, real mad. Joe Jackson.  

Seattle’s 2010 first basemen (Casey Kotchman, Mike “Magic” Carp–who will be dead weight until he learns an attack other than splash, Mike Sweeney, Matt Tuisiasopo, Ryan Langerhans, David Segui, etc.) have combined to be worse than Birdemic at the plate on a team that can ill afford to sacrifice any offense.  

So the Mariners admitted the error of their ways and gave their ex-first baseman a call. That must have been awkward:  

“Oh hey Russell, this is the Mariners. You know how we told you we didn’t want you back and that we had found someone better? Well, it turns out we were wrong, and when you left, we realized how much we needed you. So if you can ever forgive us, we need you back in our lives, and more importantly, back in the middle of our order. Whataya say?”  

Of course all of Branyan’s friends told him it was a mistake to get back with the Mariners (they don’t treat you well, they never buy you nice things, there’s no protection in the lineup, etc.) but he didn’t have much of a choice other than retiring or faking a back injury (no one’s accusing you of that Mike Sweeney). 

The move doesn’t make much sense because the Mariners are so far out of contention that ESPN doesn’t even list them in the AL West standings, but they didn’t give up anyone noteworthy (two prospects who I am too lazy to look up), and it never hurts to have someone in your lineup who can hit a ball over the wall…in fair territory. There’s not much rhyme or reason to it, but then again, this whole season hasn’t had much rhyme or reason.

Welcome back Russell. I never stopped loving you. Now go hit some home runs.

Ryan Howard Makes More Money Than You: Is He Worth $125 Million Dollars?

Ryan Howard won't have to settle for $5 dollar footlongs with his massive new contract.

No, he doesn’t work for Goldman-Sachs, but Ryan Howard is still making a killing in the down economy. The Phillies star slugger signed a 5 year/$125 million dollar contract yesterday to stay in Philadelphia through 2016. The contract also includes a $23 million dollar club option for 2017 which would push the total value of the deal to nearly $150 million–making him the second highest paid player in baseball per season behind only Alex Rodriguez.  

Though Howard got a late start to his career (he didn’t reach the majors until age 25 with Jim Thome at first in Philadelphia), the burly lefty has done nothing but hit since, averaging 49.5 home runs and 143 RBI’s over the past four seasons. Howard captured the NL MVP in 2006 on the strength of a .313-58 HR-149 campaign, and while his average has dipped since that year, he has proven to be one of the most consistent power producers in all of baseball.  

The Phillies were eager to keep the face of their franchise in red pinstripes even though he wasn’t eligible for free agency until after the 2011 season, perhaps fueled by an offseason rumor that the team had considered trading Howard to the Cardinals for Albert Pujols. Both Philadelphia and St. Louis denied that any trade talks had occurred, but the Phillies needed to prove they were committed to Howard, and did so by making him a very rich man. Is the big first baseman worth $25 million a year?  

Yes and no.  

There’s no denying that Howard is one of the best run producers in the game, and the signing is a good PR move because he’s a fan favorite, but Howard is certainly not without his flaws in the field and at the plate. The 6-4, 255 lbs. Howard has worked hard to become a passable first baseman, but is still below average at the position and would be better suited as a designated hitter in the American League. There are also concerns that his weight will become an issue in the latter stage of the contract as Howard will be 36 when the deal runs out. He has worked hard to stay in game shape, including losing 25 pounds during the offseason, but historically players of his size and skill set don’t age well. 

What the Phillies are really paying Howard for are his charismatic personality, moonshot home runs and clutch RBI’s—all of which mask some glaring weaknesses at the plate. Howard has averaged 191 strikeouts in his four full seasons and hasn’t posted an OPS over 1.000 since his MVP season of 2006. He is a .225 career hitter against left-handed pitchers and hasn’t shown the ability to improve in that area (only .200 so far in 2010). When the home runs stop flying off the bat, and they will, Howard’s contract will look like an albatross for Philadelphia. 

Were the Phillies smart to sign Howard to a new contract? Yes. Were the Phillies smart to sign Howard to a five-year/$125 million dollar contract? No. 

In other news, the St. Louis Cardinals are holding a combination bake and yard sale this weekend to help raise money for the ever-growing Albert Pujols free agent contract…

Let’s Get Bedarded in Here: Are the Mariners Crazy to Bring Back Erik Bedard?

There's nothing wrong with being Canadian. There's lots wrong with being Erik Bedard.

It’s really not much of an exaggeration to say that Seattle could sign a convicted murderer (or Richie Sexson) and the team would get a better response from their fans then they will if the Mariners bring back Erik Bedard. He’s not exactly what you would call a “fan favorite”.   

Though it’s probably not possible for one player to cripple a franchise, Bedard did his best during his two-year stint in the Emerald City. When he wasn’t on the disabled list with yet another arm injury (no one is calling him soft, no one) Bedard was struggling to last five or six innings on the mound in a pitchers’ park. And let’s not even get into all the players that were traded to pry him away for Baltimore (although we should briefly mention Adam Jones, Chris Tillman and George Sherril). When you look up “unmitigated disaster” in the dictionary Bedard’s mug will be staring right back at you (assuming your dictionary has pictures–I realize it’s not in everyone’s price range). Seattle has made tremendous strides this offseason to repair the damage done to the franchise by Bill Bavasi, are they risking it all bring back a jinxed/hexed/Canadian/cursed player?  

Well, no. This time around is a bit different from Bedard’s first go-round with the Mariners. He’s not expected to anchor the pitching staff, we’ve got Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee for that (thank you Jack Zduriencik). Bavasi also isn’t around anymore, which means we aren’t going to grossly overpay for his services (I’d guess a 1 year/$1 million dollar contract with incentives) and since Bedard isn’t a free agent this time we don’t have to give up any prospects that would inevitably haunt us. 

Let's hope Bedard makes the most of his shot at redemption in Seattle.

It sounds like because of his offseason arm surgery Bedard won’t be able to pitch until the second half of the season, making this deal very similar to the one Boston had last year with John Smoltz (let’s hope we have better success). If he his able to come back and pitch efficiently after the All-Star break and the Mariners are still in the thick of the playoff hunt, this signing could pay major dividends. It’s easy to forget because of all his injuries, but when Bedard is on the mound he is one of the top left-handers in the American League (5-3, 2.82 ERA, 90 K’s in 83 innings last year). Seattle has great pitching at the top of their rotation (Hernandez, Lee, Ryan Rowland-Smith) but there are plenty of question marks after that (Doug Fister? Jason Vargas?) and a healthy Bedard could potentially give the M’s one of the best staffs in baseball.

Let’s try and forget all we know about Erik Bedard and welcome him with open arms as a player that has the ability to help guide Seattle back to the postseason. After all, he owes us…big time.

It’s a Pretty Darn Good Time To Be a Mariners’ Fan: Seattle Signs Felix Hernandez to Five-Year Deal.

There's dancing in the streets of Seattle--Felix isn't going anywhere soon.

No seriously, I haven’t been this excited to follow the Seattle Mariners since the team traded Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek for Heathcliff Slocumb. Ken Rosenthal broke the news late last night that Seattle had reached a long-term agreement with King Felix and it appears the deal is in the neighborhood of five years and $78 million dollars. Hernandez was eligible for free agency in 2011, and coming off a tremendous 2009 season that saw him finish second in the Cy Young Award balloting, was set to get a record-breaking deal if he tested the free-agent waters.

The contract is an outright steal considering that it’s less money than the Red Sox paid to bring John Lackey aboard for the same length of time. Who would you rather have on your pitching staff for the next five years, an aging Lackey or a constantly improving Hernandez? Considering that he is still only 23-years-old, the Mariners are going to get five seasons of Felix in his prime for slightly more per year than they were paying Carlos Silva (please don’t leave any more tear filled voicemails Carlos, we’re not taking you back). Even if the Mariners are unable to resign Cliff Lee after the season, they’ve got the best young pitcher in baseball locked up through 2014, something they can undoubtedly use to lure top free-agents to Seattle (Lebron James at first base in 2011?). This move assures that the Mariners will be contenders in the AL West not just next season, but for years to come with Felix anchoring the pitching staff.

Is it too soon to name Jack Zduriencik the GM of the century? Chone Figgins, Cliff Lee, Ken Griffey Jr., Milton Bradley and now a long-term deal with the most exciting young arm in baseball? Is there anything this guy can’t do?

I’ve got a feeling (woohoo!) that 2010 is going to be a good season; that 2010 is a going to be a good season; that 2010 is a going to be a good, good season!

Let the party start, King Felix isn’t going anywhere.