Stakeholders - Seattle Mariners
From now through the beginning of the regular season, we will not be posting in-depth round-tables previewing each division like we have in years past. Instead we will feature brief back-and-forths with "stakeholders" from all 30 teams. A collection of bloggers, analysts, mainstream writers and senior front office personnel will join us to discuss a specific team's hopes for 2010. Some will be in-depth, some light, some analytical, some less so but they should all be fun to read and we are thrilled about the lineup of guests we have teed up. We kick our Stakeholders series off today with none other than Dave Cameron on the Seattle Mariners.
Patrick Sullivan: Dave Cameron, longtime Mariners fan, how much do you miss Bill Bavasi? It's OK, you can tell us, your friends at Baseball Analysts.
Dave Cameron: As a fan, not at all. As a blogger, more than you could imagine. We started blogging about the Mariners during the decline years of the Gillick era, when stuff started to go badly, so the first six years of USSMariner's existence essentially boiled down to a series of "Oh God no don't do that" posts, which were easy to write. Bill gave us Jose Vidro, Designated Hitter, for heaven's sake. From the perspective of someone who needed something to write about regularly, Bill was a gold mine. As any Royal fan will now tell you, covering a disaster of a GM doesn't take much creativity. It's easy.
Jack is not nice enough to provide similar material. The new front office stole all of our thunder, preaching the value of defense and guys who don't swing at everything. They basically implemented the plan we were begging Bill to put in place, and so now, we're left writing some version of a pat-on-the-back post. Oh, you found another undervalued good glove role player for the league minimum? Thanks, but what am I supposed to say that I haven't said yet? They're making us into cheerleaders, and frankly, I'm not comfortable in this role. I don't know how to root for a well run organization. I've never had these emotions before. They're new and they scare me.
But that doesn't mean I want Bill back.
PS: Everyone loves the off-season Seattle just had. We get it. But now I want to understand where you think they could have done better. I mean isn't there a real chance that the lineup is just awful?
DC: Interestingly, the move that I have the most reservations about has nothing to do with the offense. The "Your Brandon Is Better Than My Brandon" trade is the one move this winter that I think could end up turning out really poorly. Brandon Morrow is, without a doubt, a frustrating pitcher with a lot of red flags - lousy command, inconsistent secondary stuff, inability to get lefties out, a history of arm problems, and diabetes are just a few of the reasons he might never turn into anything. But he's still a 25-year-old pitcher making the league minimum with more strikeouts than innings pitched in his career. And the M's turned him into a relief pitcher.
Now, Brandon League is a good relief pitcher, and the bullpen needed help, but still, that trade has a lot of downside. Maybe the odds of Morrow putting it all together weren't great, but the potential payoff if he did was huge. The M's cashed in a high risk, high reward pitcher for a safer play to help them in 2010, but potentially surrendered a lot of long term value in the process. I can understand the reasoning behind the deal, but I still think that there were other ways to bolster the relief corps without sacrificing a guy with significant upside.
As for the offense, sure, there's a chance they could be terrible, but again, our DHs the last four years have been Carl Everett, Jose Vidro, and Ken Griffey Jr. We know how to cope with teams that can't score. And, honestly, I think this group of hitters is better than people give them credit for. Their runs scored total from a year ago is misleading, as the team performed horribly with men on base, and that's not predictive. A lot depends on Milton Bradley and how often he can stay in the line-up. If he gives the team 120+ games, the offense should be average-ish, maybe a tick below. Ichiro and Figgins are quality hitters, Bradley is as well when he's in the line-up, and Lopez/Kotchman/Gutierrez are all about average. Byrnes and Garko kill lefties and have enough upside to potentially be useful regulars. This isn't the 27 Yankees, but the Mariners should score 700 to 725 runs, which isn't awful for a team that plays half of its games in Safeco Field.
PS: I agree on Milton Bradley being the key to the offense. I'm rooting like heck for him. I've been accused of making too many excuses for Bradley but I just think he was never set up to succeed in Chicago. Who do you think will write more about Bradley this year, the Chicago or Seattle press? Out of the chute, Chicago has a HUGE edge.
DC: It will be interesting to see how the media in Seattle handles Milton. For the most part, it's a lower pressure group, and one that will not be as confrontational as the Chicago group was. But they won't turn a blind eye if he gives them something to write about. There is one beat writer in particular (Geoff Baker, Seattle Times) who won't hesitate to stir the pot when he senses a potential story, and he focuses quite heavily on the clubhouse interaction side of the game, so he won't be covering for Bradley if he's acting out. But, I think there are reasons to think this could work.
Seattle is not Chicago. Bradley has thrived in other low pressure markets like Texas and San Diego, which Seattle is more comparable too. And, while we obviously lean more towards the talent side of things in the chemistry debates, having Ken Griffey Jr around can only help. Bradley's been outspoken about his respect for Junior, and having someone he'll listen to may allow them to put out some small fires before they turn into an explosion. There are reasons to think that the Mariners may get the reasonably well behaved version of Bradley that was a big part of some good teams in the not too distant past.
But, of course, it could go badly wrong. There's no denying the fact that Milton has talked himself off of almost every team he's ever been part of. If he slumps out of the gate and the team isn't doing well, he's an easy target for people who will want to blame the team's regression on the decision to upset the clubhouse chemistry from a year ago. It's a pre-written narrative for the media, and they will take advantage of that storyline if handed the opportunity. So, it's in everyone's best interests for Bradley to hit the crap out of the ball in April and the team to get off to a hot start. If they're in last place in May, people will blame Milton, and I don't think the M's want to bet their season on Bradley responding well to criticism.
PS: Talk to me a little bit about Seattle's starting pitching after Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee.
DC: As those two go, so go the Mariners. It's certainly a risk to put your eggs in the basket of two pitchers, and an extended DL stint for either one probably takes the Mariners out of contention. But, these two are legitimately among the top arms in baseball, and the Mariners will be the favorite in every game where they take the hill. If they can get 65 starts out of that pair, there's a good chance they'll get 45+ wins in those games, and they could then play below .500 ball the rest of the season and still be a playoff contender. That's the blueprint, essentially - win early and often when Felix and Lee are on the hill, try not to get pummeled when the other guys start.
Will it work? I don't know. But if it does, and the Mariners end up making the post-season, that duo makes them a nightmare to face in a short series. The Mariners certainly aren't as good as the Yankees, Red Sox, or Rays, but in a 7 game series where Felix and Lee take the hill four times, the differences are minimized. With these two guys, the Mariners have a roster built for October. Whether the surrounding pieces are good enough to get them there, we'll see, but there are certainly two cornerstones in place for a post-season run that ends
with a parade.
PS: Thanks so much for your time, David. Want to wrap with a prediction? Maybe even a kind word about Jered Weaver?
DC: I predict that there will be far too many words written about the Mariners this year. Based on the quantity of articles written this winter, it seems that the Mariners have become the new go-to-story for national media looking to focus on how an organization is changing the game, and unfortunately, this team is going to become something of a litmus test for the value of defense. There have been so many words written about how the M's have gone gaga for fielding that I feel like the skeptics of defensive metrics are just waiting for this team to struggle so they can hold the Mariners as evidence that defense doesn't really matter or UZR isn't accurate.
So, let me just throw this out there - this team very well might not win. They've bet big on a few guys staying healthy and productive, and they're counting on guys playing better than they have in the recent past in order to score enough runs to contend. There are a ton of risks in this roster, and it could all go horribly wrong. There are plausible scenarios where this team loses 90 games, and they have nothing to do with defense being overrated.
I am rooting for this team to do well as a fan, but also as someone who has fought hard for the acceptance of defensive value over the last few years. Defense matters, whether the Mariners end up winning with this particular roster or not.
As for Weaver, I still see him as a mid-rotation starter, but I will say that his splits have led me down an interesting path, which I think may end up leading us to better understand how certain pitchers can indeed use deceptive motions and arm slots to sustain "lucky" performances against same handed hitters. It's not exactly the highest compliment I could pay someone, but not every innings eater ends up pushing knowledge forward, so thanks for being weird, Jered.
Dave Cameron is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and is also the managing editor of the FanGraphs blog. He also contributes to the Wall Street Journal, and was the editor of the Maple Street Press 2010 Mariners Annual. His wife deserves a medal for allowing him to do all this.