WTNYJanuary 20, 2004
Far Eastern Retirement
By Bryan Smith

In a shocking move, yesterday Kaz Sasaki's agent announced he has no intentions of playing professional baseball in the United States, bypassing the $9.5M he was set to make from the Seattle Mariners. Sasaki wished to be closer to his family, and has no ruled out the possibility of playing in Japan. This move comes a little late for Bill Bavasi, who has already struggled mightily in his newest role atop the Mariner organization. Sasaki was penciled in as the Mariner's closer, although the team couldn't have been that excited about him:

2000: 6.03H/9, 4.45BB/9, 11.20K/9
2001: 6.48H/9, 1.49BB/9, 8.37K/9
2002: 6.53H/9, 2.97BB/9, 10.83K/9
2003: 8.37H/9, 4.05BB/9, 7.83K/9

And by using the Rob Neyer style, I'm going to break that into 2:

2000-2001: 6.26H/9, 2.92BB/9, 9.74K/9
2002-2003: 7.18H/9, 3.35BB/9, 9.77K/9

So, Sasaki's worst year came in 2003, and in the last two years, he's become much worse. His H/9 ratio increased in each of his four seasons, and excluding a walk-full rookie season, his walk ratio is on the upswing. His K/9 hit an all-time low in 2003, but a solid 2002 kept his K/9 equal to the previous two seasons. Some blame Sasaki's terrible 2003 on injuries, but I say his fastball just lost the pop it once had.

Much of Sasaki's bad year can be blamed on a disastrous April, in which he gave up nine earned runs in nine innings, blowing four out of his eight save attempts. He then seldomly pitched until August, upon which allowing a 4.91ERA and not getting a save opportunity. He finished September fine, but it was too little, too late. Sasaki's final win share total was 3.58, which can be rounded to 4. That converts to about one and one-third wins, or half of Rafael Soriano's contributions.

So, we've established that Sasaki's absence won't hurt the team from a talent standpoint, but where does that leave them? The team will now look something like this in the pitching department:

1. Jamie Moyer- LHP
2. Freddy Garcia- RHP
3. Joel Pineiro- RHP
4. Ryan Franklin- RHP
5. Gil Meche- RHP

CL- Rafael Soriano- RHP
SU- Eddie Guardado- LHP
MR- Shigetoshi Hasegawa- RHP
MR- Julio Mateo- RHP
LOOGY- Mike Myers
Long-Relief- Kevin Jarvis- LHP

Well, it doesn't exactly rival the Angels and Athletics, but hey, it beats the Rangers! Wasting Soriano in the closer's role (or maybe even set-up), while letting Gil Meche pitch in the rotation is indefensible, but hardly unbelievable from what we've come to expect from Mariner brass. Now word has it the team is interested in putting Sasaki's money into Maels Rodriguez, which I support. Cuban pitchers have done very well when coming to the United States, but some worry about the condition of Maels' arm. That will be settled January 22nd, but I think he might be better suited for the closer's role. And hey, the Mariners didn't do horribly the last time they overpayed for a foreign player to close.

With Soriano in the fifth slot, Rodriguez closing, Bavasi then might be able to trade Ben Davis, Gil Meche, and maybe even Kevin Jarvis. I really like the Mike Myers addition, as I supported the Cubs signing him months ago. When used in the right role, Myers can be very solid. Last year, lefties hit .237/.314/.421 off of Myers, and their OPS is a combined .692 in the last three seasons. He struggles vs. RH, but a good manager keeps him out of those situations. Given the right managing, I believe Myers can post a sub-3.00ERA again, but hey, I got a thing for sidearmers.

In the end, the Mariners will have a hard time moving from third place. Bill Bavasi has become one of the game's worst GMs in his first offseason, starting with the Raul Ibanez signing. You know it's bad when a player quitting is one of the better moves of the winter months...