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May 12, 2007 at 1:31 PM

Bavasi’s off-season

Almost mid-May and the Mariners have yet to shrivel up and die, so that has to be good news for local baseball fans. The emergence of Jarrod Washburn as a dependable No. 2 guy (so far) in the rotation is great news. As long as Felix Hernandez returns as a potential No. 1 guy, this season could be very interesting.
So, how are general manager Bill Bavasi’s off-season moves going? For now, I’d say reasonably well on the hitting front — though it’s still on very shaky ground — and lousy on the pitching front. In the end, that disparity might be what prevents the .500 Mariners from rising to anything more. As we all know, pitching is what decides who makes the playoffs and who doesn’t.
Let’s look at the offense first.
Jose Vidro had a pretty respectable April as a designated hitter, posting a .756 on-base-plus slugging percentage. That includes the slow start he got off to, hampered by snow delays. His OPS will never be as high as what a good DH will show because he is not the type to put up a .500 slugging percentage. His on-base percentage needs to be higher. It’s at .338 now, getting dragged down by his .256 numbers in May. Not good enough. The Mariners need it up around .360 to make this trade worthwhile. He’s not giving you the slugging of a DH, so he has to provide the on-base ability. A .217 OBP in the No. 2 spot, albeit with only a 23-at-bat sample size, is a concern because this is his natural spot in the order. He has to step things up.
Seattle is paying $12 million of his remaining $16 million in salary. Not to mention the two bodies given up to the Washington Nationals. Chris Snelling has already been traded and is still injury prone. Emiliano Fruto is a young arm and that always carries clout. So far, in the season as a whole, Vidro has proved a decent everyday player, but is not giving the team all it expected. It’s still early and he’s been in a slump. We’ll see how things look in a few weeks.
As for Jose Guillen, it’s also been a start of fits and spurts for him. Lately, his bat has started to provide more of what was expected. His OPS is up to .800 and I think it will go higher as he works through the early season ankle pains he was battling. Seems to be getting healthier. His slugging percentage of .455 is 40 or 50 points higher than what Ichiro provided as the main right fielder last season and I have no reason to doubt it will climb. Guillen is slugging well over .600 for May — once again, his early hurts have eased — so I think it’s reasonable to expect a final slugging percentage up at .480 or higher. He’s on-pace for a season of roughly 20 homers. If that happens, his one-year free agent deal will have been well worth it.
So, overall, the offense is somewhat improved, even with the early season struggles of Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre. Remember, the whole point of acquiring Vidro and Guillen was to mitigate the early season Sexson-Beltre disasters. The Mariners appear to have weathered that storm for now. Still not perfect, but they are a game over .500 and have the softer part of their schedule beginning after next week’s Angels visit.
Now for the pitching.
So far, I’d say Miguel Batista has delivered reasonably close to what was expected. Horacio Ramirez and Jeff Weaver have not. Weaver has been a total bust. The team can hide behind an “injury” to free up a roster spot, but I doubt anyone seriously considers this to be the reason. The team sent him back out to the mound just two days ago. If there was any real concern he was hurt, no responsible team would do that with an $8.3 million investment. Weaver has been awful. His fastball barely touches 90 mph and his secondary pitches aren’t good enough for him to fool anyone with most of his offerings. The numbers support this. Weaver knows how bad he’s been and has done nothing to argue the point. Seattle could have spent the money elsewehere, or stockpiled it for a mid-season player boost. But spending it, when Cha Seung Baek had the finish he did last season? Somebody messed up on this evaluation. It’s not my money, but I’d be very upset if it was.
As for Ramirez, the price Seattle paid to acquire a fifth starter reeks of a winter panic move. Shut out at the winter meetings, with top names headed elsewhere (a good thing, as it turned out in most cases) Bavasi made an equally bad move to acquire a National League pitcher who can’t do anything away from pitcher-friendly Safeco Field.
Ramirez has a 1.46 ERA in two starts at home against “soft” teams. And a Weaver-like 13.17 ERA in three road starts against better clubs. He hasn’t gone seven innings against anyone yet. A fifth starter at best. Right now, he has to show he can stay up here as even that. The big test comes tomorrow and believe me, it is a test. He’s been pitching scared against the bigger AL bats and no contending team can have that. Especially not a team that gave up current Atlanta Braves closer Rafael Soriano to get him.
Chris Reitsma has done an OK job in limited use in his given role. But he’s yet to match the impact Rafael Soriano has enjoyed with the Braves. As for the trickle-down impact, where would Brandon Morrow be if Soriano was still in Seattle? Morrow would be down in the minors preparing to become a starter for the Mariners. A starter who could possibly help the team this year. Ramirez has to show something more real soon, because until now, he has not delivered the Mariners anything of value. They could have called Ryan Feieranbend up to beat the Rangers and Royals at home. Throw a “quality start” against the Yankees by Ramirez tomorrow and then we can talk. Until then, he’s on borrowed time.
So far, Bavasi’s moves, in my book, fall on the negative side of the ledger. No two ways about it. He entered the winter needing to improve the starting rotation. So far, the only improvement has been a natural boost by Hernandez, when healthy, and from Washburn — finally earning that contract of his. The three new starters? Batista gives you some stability, but that’s it. As a whole, the new additions make the rotation worse and the price to get them was too high.
The good news for Bavasi? The team has scrapped out wins without Hernandez to stay close. That has bought the GM a few more weeks to try to get things right, to the extent that he can. Get through this week against the Yankees and Angels, and the Devil Rays, Pirates, Reds, Royals and others of their ilk lurk on the distant horizon. Remember, survival has quickly become the theme of this season’s first half.
To date, in spite of this witner’s moves, the Mariners are alive and well in the standings.



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