Maligned Mariners Management Makes Move for Montero: Can Jesus Save Seattle’s Season?

Hopefully this card wasn't part of your retirement plan, because you know, he's a Mariner now.

Seattle Mariners fan(s) complained all winter long (with good reason–did you see the summer blockbuster, “2011: A Baseball Tragedy“?) about the lack of activity from the team’s front office, and now that a substantial and largely unexpected move (though Rob Lowe did tweet about it a few weeks ago) has been made, well, nobody knows quite how to feel.

On one hand, Seattle acquired a power-hitting catcher/DH in Jesus Montero who has long been considered one of the best power prospects in the minor leagues. On the flip side, the Mariners had to give up Michael Pineda, a towering right-hander who made the All-Star game in his first season and become a fan favorite for his sizzling fastball and gregarious personality.

So how does the trade rate on paper, and where does the move leave Seattle heading into the 2012 season?

If the Mariners organization has any strength (try to stifle your laughter), it’s their depth of pitching talent at both the major and minor league levels. Even with Pineda (and the second piece of the trade–Jose Campos) off to the Bronx, Seattle still boasts a farm system loaded with talented arms like Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez and Taijuan Walker who aren’t that far away from contributing for the Mariners. So while it was difficult to give up Pineda and his 1.099 WHIP and 9.1 K/9, Seattle has a much better chance of replacing him from within than it did of acquiring a free-agent hitter at a palatable rate.

What the Mariners boast in pitching however, is negated by a lineup (Seattle scored 299 fewer runs than Texas in 2011) often described as “more unwatchable than Norbit“. Enter Jesus Montero, a burly slugger who has elicited comparisons to Miguel Cabrera and Paul Konerko while posting a career .308/.366/.501 slash line in the minor leagues, and hitting .328 with four HR’s in 61 AB’s for the Yankees in September. There are legitimate concerns that Montero won’t be able to stay at catcher, but even so, it’s hard to imagine him hitting worse than the combination of Jack Cust/Adam Kennedy at DH.

Though Safeco is a tough environment for right-handed hitters (somewhere, in a dark room, Richie Sexson quietly weeps), scouts have raved about Montero’s ability to drive the ball to the opposite field, something that allowed Brett Boone to set a major-league record for HR’s by a second baseman in 2001. If Montero lives up to his sizable potential, it’s easy to get excited about a heart of the lineup that also features Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak and Mike Carp. It’s not exactly the 1927 Yankees, but it sure is better than anything Mariners fans have seen lately.

The other pieces of the trade, Hector Noesi to Seattle and Jose Campos to New York, benefit the M’s in the short term as Noesi can slide in as a fourth or fifth starter in 2012. Noesi has proven he can handle major league hitters in the treacherous AL East, but he doesn’t have the upside of Campos, who dominated the Northwest League in 2011 to the tune of a 2.32 ERA, 0.971 WHIP, and a ridiculous 6.54 K/BB ratio. Campos looks like another Pineda in the making, but is years away from contributing at the major league level, and when it comes to pitching prospects, there’s no such thing as a guarantee (remember Ryan Anderson).

The Mariners aren’t going to compete for the AL West crown in 2012, but if nothing else, this move makes them infinitely more watchable. A full season of Montero, Ackley, Carp, and the possible return to form of Justin Smoak gives M’s fans reasons to believe that the worst of times are behind. Heck, Seattle might even flirt with .500 in 2012 (although they’re far too shy to ask it on a date). It’s not the end of the long climb back to respectability, but it’s a start.

Go Mariners.


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…

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.

The Day After: A Closer Look At What the Cliff Lee Deal Means to the Mariners.

The acquisition of Lee gives Mariners' fans plenty of reasons for optimism in 2010.

While the dust has yet to settle on the biggest deal of the offseason, it’s evident that Seattle’s acquisition of Cliff Lee will have some dramatic effects on the Mariner’s franchise for next year and beyond. Long an afterthought in the baseball landscape due to an incompetent front office’s baffling signings and trades, Seattle has put themselves back on the map by becoming a major player in the free-agent market for the first time since getting burned on the acquisitions of Richie Sexson and Carlos Silva (the team overpaid for Adrian Beltre too, but he wasn’t nearly as bad as Sexson and Silva). Under the guidance of new general manager Jack Zduriencik the Mariners are suddenly a chic pick to win the AL West in 2010 and possibly to make some noise in the playoffs if the team can acquire a few more bats for their lineup. Though there is much work left to be done, Seattle is certainly making their presence felt this offseason, and the Lee deal is a major step towards redemption for the Mariners’ franchise. 

By trading for Cliff Lee the Mariners create the most dynamic starting duo in all of baseball, pairing the left-hander with righty Felix Hernandez (fresh off a second place finish in the 2009 Cy Young balloting). Lee, a pitch-to-contact type hurler, should thrive in the spacious confines of Safeco Field and will also benefit from having one of the best outfield defenses in the league (depending on who fills out leftfield). The left-hander has primarily been a fly-ball pitcher throughout his career, but in recent seasons has induced more groundballs and will rely heavily on a strong left-side of the Mariners infield anchored by Jack Wilson and Chone Figgins. Though not overpowering, Lee has a solid fastball and an above-average curveball, which should allow him to average six to seven strikeouts per start. The fact that Lee is lefthanded will also pay dividends for the Mariners if they reach the playoffs, allowing them to neutralize some of baseball’s best hitters, many of whom struggle against southpaws (Ryan Howard, Curtis Granderson, Chase Utley, Andre Ethier, Raul Ibanez, etc). Additionally, Lee does a stellar job of neutralizing opposing team’s running games, having never allowed more than nine stolen bases in any one season, which will take pressure off Seattle’s young catchers. Cliff Lee is a certified staff ace in every since of the word, and his addition alone significantly closes the gap between the Angels and the Mariners in the AL West. 

Cliff Lee and King Felix give the Mariners the best 1-2 combo in baseball.

The one caveat to this trade is the fact that Cliff Lee is only signed through 2010 and there are rumors that he is looking for C.C. Sabathia type money (7 years/$161 million). While it’s clear that the Mariners won’t have the necessary funds to sign both Lee and Hernandez to long-term deals, Seattle’s commitment to winning will give the franchise leverage when (if) they decide to resign one of these two pitchers. If somehow the Mariners find themselves out of contention at the trade deadline Lee will be the best pitcher available once again, and would allow Seattle to recoup prospects for their farm system. The other scenario, Lee leaving at the end of the season and testing the market, would also net the Mariners two draft picks (a first round pick from the team that signed him plus a sandwich pick) because Lee would be a Type-A free-agent. Zduriencik really covered all the bases with this trade; however you slice it, the Mariners are going to come out winners. 

It wasn’t all that long ago that the Seattle Mariners traded away a package of prospects for another left-handed pitcher, and it’s painfully obvious now that the Erik Bedard deal was doomed from the start (except for the Baltimore Orioles). This time around though, the Mariners are acquiring a pitcher with a much stronger track record for success and durability, and they aren’t selling the farm in order to bring him aboard. It appears that Seattle will be sending three prospects to Philadelphia; pitchers Phillipe Aumont and Juan Ramirez, as well as outfielder Tyson Gillies. While all three players have some upside none of them are labeled as “can’t-miss” prospects, and they presumably won’t haunt the Mariners like Adam Jones and Chris Tillman. 

Can Griffey and the Mariners get to their first ever World Series in 2010?

Aumont was Seattle’s first round choice in the 2007 draft, a long, lean right-hander who was originally a starter but since has been converted to the bullpen. The 20-year-old was good but not great between Single and Double-A in 2009, struggling with control at times while walking 11 batters in only 17 innings for the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx. Ramirez projects as a number two starter, a right-hander with a hard fastball and developing off-speed pitches. If he is unable to handle the strain of starting, Ramirez has the stuff to be a quality arm at the end of the bullpen, possibly even as a closer. Gillies is one of the fastest players in the minor leagues (he has 96 speed on a scale of 100) who stole 44 bases for the Mariners’ High Class-A affiliate. He had an outstanding season at the plate in 2009, hitting .341 with 9 HR’s and 42 RBI’s, though it should be noted that the High Desert Mavericks play in the hitters’ friendly California League. Out of all the prospects involved in the deal, Gillies has the best chance to become an impact player at the next level, but Seattle already has a long-term answer in centerfield with Franklin Gutierrez.

Thanks to an aggressive general manager and some key offseason moves the Seattle Mariners are once again relevant to the baseball world. It’s hard to believe that just two years ago this team lost 101 games, but the franchise has clearly turned over a new page in their history, and GM Jack Zduriencik has the team poised for a return to the postseason for the first time since 2001. With King Felix and Lee anchoring the rotation, and Ichiro and Figgins setting the table, Seattle is a very dangerous team on mission to win and win now. Next stop, the 2010 World Series?

Baseball Gets It Right: Zack Greinke Named A.L. Cy Young Award Winner

Felix was phenomenal in '09, but Greinke was clearly the game's most dominant pitcher all year long.

As a Mariners’ fan I wanted Felix Hernandez to win this year’s AL Cy Young Award, because as a rule of thumb Seattle sports don’t win much (and no, I’m not forgetting about you Storm). After all, Hernandez came up through the farm system and matured before our eyes from a 19-year-old prodigy into a certified staff ace. He was dominant in 2009, leading a pedestrian Mariners team to an 85-win season, and looking better and better as the year progressed. The King finally lived up to his nickname, winning 19 games with a 2.49 ERA and 217 K’s, but even as a Mariners fan, I knew Felix didn’t deserve the award. C.C. Sabathia, Justin Verlander and Roy Halladay didn’t even deserve to be in the discussion; it was truly a two-horse race, and unfortunately, sweet Barbaro wasn’t one of them. No, Hernandez picked a bad season for his coming out party because, despite being stuck in the baseball wasteland that is Kansas City, Royals right-hander Zach Greinke was the best pitcher in 2009, not just in the American League…but in the entire sport.

Despite pitching for one of baseball's worst teams, Greinke was able to convince voters he was the AL's best.

Although his finish to the 2008 season should have raised a few eyebrows (4-1 with a 2.18 ERA in September), Greinke came into the year with virtually no fanfare—but it didn’t take long for that to change. By the end of the season’s first month, Sports Illustrated was heralding Greinke as the game’s best pitcher and it was easy to see why. In five April starts, the Royals’ ace went 5-0, had a dead-ball era 0.50 ERA and struck out 44 batters in only 36 innings. Kansas City was riding high and looking like a favorite in the AL Central but as often happens to a team that relies on Mike Jacobs as the big bat in their lineup, the Royals quickly faded from contention and Greinke was once again left to toil in obscurity. That didn’t stop him from mowing down hitters though, and despite some sub par run support (is Mark Teahan really hitting cleanup?) Zach-Attack cruised into the All-Star break with a 10-5 record, 2.12 ERA and amazingly, only four HR’s allowed in 127 innings. Although somehow not chosen to start the All-Star game, he made the most of his opportunity, striking out two NL batters in one inning and showing a national audience that he was a true star in the making.

The second half of the season was a struggle for Greinke, as he won only six games in 15 starts, though the blame clearly fell on the woeful Kansas City offense. The Royals only managed to score 13 runs in Greinke’s eight losses (1.6 runs/game) on the season, while scoring just 21 runs in his nine no-decisions (2.33 runs/game). Playing for a team with an average offense, Greinke would likely have finished with 22-23 wins, instead of the 16 he collected with Kansas City, and the Cy Young race wouldn’t have been a race at all, rather a runaway. Despite his team’s numerous shortcomings (no offense Sidney Ponson), Greinke never let up and capped off his historic season with a 3-0 record and 0.55 ERA in September.

If you take away wins (unfair, I know, but so is playing for K.C.), the choice of Zach Greinke as the Cy Young was really a no brainer (a good thing for voters):

–>Greinke: 2.16 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 242 K’s/51 walks, 6 complete games

–>Hernandez: 2.49 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 217 K’s/71 walks, 2 complete games

Sorry C.C., not even playing for the Yankees was enough to get you this year's Cy Young award.

If that’s not enough, digging even deeper shows that Greinke was at his best when it mattered most (which technically is never when pitching for the Royals, but bear with me). He held hitters to a .253 average with the bases empty, and incredibly was tougher with runners on, allowing opposing batters a miniscule .197 average and .235 OBP. Even when batters got ahead in the count Greinke was unhittable. He faced 111 batters with a three ball count, which typically favors hitters not named Yuniesky Betancourt, yet he held those batters to 19 hits, or a Richie Sexson-esque .171 average. The 26-year-old righty showed his true grit by improving each time through the lineup (.264 average on first plate appearance vs .189 average on third plate appearance), and holding hitters to a .199 BA with runners in scoring position. By any statistical measure you choose to look at Zack Grienke, was the best pitcher in the AL, and it wasn’t even close.

Although often criticized for questionable and uneducated decisions (cough–Derek Jeter Gold Glove–cough) baseball voters got the right man this time. Not only was Zach Grienke a great story in overcoming social anxiety disorder, but he was also baseball’s best pitcher all season long. It looks like the Royals have found their ace for the next decade, now if they only could find a catcher, first baseman, shortstop, second baseman, right fielder, third baseman and left fielder, they might be in business. Regardless of the talent (or lack thereof) that surrounded him, Zack Grienke pitched like a superstar all year and was more than worthy of the 2009 AL Cy Young award. Here’s hoping the humble young pitcher carries his success into next season…and brings some much needed hope to a hapless franchise.