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Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

July 31, 2007 at 8:37 AM

Time ticking away…

Last chance for the Mariners to upgrade their team for this season. At least externally and without waivers. Time is ticking away and the remaining deals out there will only be around for another few hours. After that, the M’s will have to go with what they’ve got. Is that going to be enough? I didn’t think so when the year began, or at the All-Star Break, and I’m going to stick to my guns and continue to say no. Believe me, I’ve heard the line about how “sometimes the best trade is no trade at all” used by too many non-playoff teams and the writers who cover them for too many years.
That’s what the Mariners will all be saying after today’s 1 p.m. trade deadline if GM Bill Bavasi is unable to swing a deal. We’ve seen the price of an established setup man. The M’s tried to get Octavio Dotel away from the Kansas City Royals with Wladimir Balentien and it wasn’t enough. The Braves have apparently trumped them with young pitcher Kyle Davies.
That’s the market price.
So, if the Mariners can’t get Al Reyes out of Tampa Bay, it will be because they are unwilling to pay the market price. Not because the Devil Rays are hard to deal with. There is a huge difference and it will be one worth investigating if the bullpen that has carried this team all season long suddenly becomes less effective down the stretch. Is Jeff Clement worth more than Balentien? Most likely so, considering he is a left handed hitting catcher, not another dime-a-dozen power hitting corner outfielder. Is he worth more than a young pitcher? Depends on who you talk to, but many teams will tell you no.
Market price. Remember the words.
I know a lot of you disagree with me on this. And I agree that giving up on a former No. 1 pick is a steep price to acquire a 37-year-old pitcher. The fact that Reyes has already had Tommy John surgery means very little to me since many of today’s top pitchers have gone though that and become better and more powerful for it.
Reyes isn’t showing any signs of arm trouble and the M’s are only picking him up for a couple of months, possibly next year, if they pull the trigger on a deal. So, the surgery angle is a tempest in a pretty dull teapot.
Now, let’s get down to what matters. Why should the M’s be intrigued by Reyes? Let’s leave aside the fact that he’s handled the late-inning role before, in a much more pressure-packed ninth of late. We all should realize that experience does matter by now. If you don’t I’ll get back to that in a second. Let’s look at the numbers. The Mariners now say they plan to mix and match the remainder of the season if they don’t make a deal.
That they will have to do since Brandon Morrow’s control comes and goes. If it goes, you won’t want him handling the eighth inning that particular week. Sean Green? Great against righties, but tends to get hit by lefties. Again, not someone you can rely on day-in, day-out with any certainty. Has Green pitched well? Without question. But please, to whoever it was who invoked the name of Francisco Rodriguez, circa 2002, I was there throughout those playoffs and there is no comparison. K-Rod kept striking out some of the better hitters in the game in pressure-packed, playoff situations each time he stepped on the mound.
Green would have to be outdoing J.J. Putz to match the impact K-Rod had in 2002. And while Green has done very well, I’d still rather see a more experienced arm in there.
Let’s look at the numbers Reyes brings to the table: A .194 batting average against (.187 versus lefties, .200 versus righties). Then there’s the 43 strikeouts versus only 14 walks. Yes, his earned run average has shot up because of a pair of four-spots given up earlier this month. That will kill the ERA of any reliever. Plenty of you keep mentioning Julio Mateo’s scoreless outings stretch in Class AAA. What if I told you Reyes went through a stretch earlier this season in which he allowed runs in only two of 21 outings? And that’s at the big-league level, not Class AAA. To argue that he is the second coming of Heathcliff Slocumb is somewhat ridiculous.
Look, the M’s don’t have to listen to me or anyone else. They can roll the dice with what they’ve got and maybe get away with it. If they do, then I’m sure they’ll plan to see Clement either catching, playing first base or serving as a DH for them next season. Or, they’ll be dealing him in a blockbuster off-season trade. Otherwise, hanging on to him now smacks as coveting one’s prospects too much.
I’ve found it extremely interesting this decade to watch as the value of prospects has soared. It wasn’t always this way. The arrival of this generation’s wave of general managers like Billy Beane, Theo Epstein, Mark Shapiro, J.P, Ricciardi, Jon Daniels and others has seen an increase in value placed on prospects who have never achieved anything at the big-league level. To be certain, there has always been value in top prospects. It’s just that now, their currency has soared, often at the expense of proven big leaguers.
Is this right? Well, I’ll argue that much of it was borne out of necessity. Especially in markets like Oakland and Toronto, where the absence of new ballpark deals to generate cash flow forced those teams to adopt a more frugal approach. In those markets, prospects became like gold. Why spend money when you can groom a prospect for three or four years and get off cheap? That idea became the norm this decade as more and more teams sought cost containment in the face of escalating salaries.
And there is nothing wrong with that so long as you recognize it for what it is. A bid by some teams to save money. I’d argue that the landscape is slowly changing in baseball. Not to the point where prospects are about to suffer a dramatic loss in value. But let’s face it, the spending we saw this past winter is a sign that the widespread frugality of some of the years preceeding it was about to go out the window. Even teams like the A’s are starting to spend and will have a new ballpark to soon add revenues. Does that mean every team should suddenly run wild? No way. But it is also time to take a realistic look at some prospects for what they are. They are unproven players.
Not every prospect makes a good big leaguer. And for teams with money, and a shot at the post-season, it will sometimes be necessary to shed the more recent prospects-at-all-costs mentality for the realization that a proven big leaguer will almost certainly get you where you want to go faster.
In this case, the M’s won’t be earning any trophies at year’s end for getting where they want to go at a lower cost. They will earn it by winning more games than the Angels, or the wild-card leader. The question they now have to ask themselves is, will the acquisition of another setup man help them achieve that goal more than will standing pat? And if the answer is “yes” then they have to be honest with themselves about their future plans for the trade chit in question — be it Clement, Balentien or whoever — and be willing to part with it if the need arises.
Prospects are great. But they are just that. Experienced major leaguers are just that as well. Some work out and some will not, on both sides. But in the end, like anything in life, you will tend to come out ahead more often than not by betting on the surer thing. Why try to catch lightning in a bottle, or hope for the second coming of K-Rod, if you can take a more calculated risk? Remember, there are no prizes for the team hording the most prospects.
For the “wait until next year” crowd that wants to make a bigger trade splash this winter, all I can offer up is this tidbit from my childhood as a long-suffering Montreal Expos fan. In 1981, the Expos had already been proclaimed the “Team of the 1980s” by Sports Illustrated when they were beaten in a decisive Game 5 of the NLCS by a Rick Monday homer in the ninth off Steve Rodgers. The team’s GM at the time, John McHale, was said to be inconsolable as he hung his head in his private suite after the game.
Charles Bronfman, the team’s billionaire owner at the time, whose family made a fortune in the liquor business, patted his GM on the back, and told him not to worry, that the Expos would do better the following season. To which McHale is said to have looked up, shaken his head and told Bronfman that he just didn’t understand.
What did the Canadian businessman, raised on hockey more than baseball, not understand? That the post-season in baseball can often be a once-in-a-lifetime thing. There may never be a second chance to make the moves you would have done if you could have a do-over. A cocaine scandal rocked the team the following year and plenty of underachievement followed in subsequent seasons. The Expos lasted another quarter-century without another playoff appearance.
Bill Bavasi may have been patted on the back by his team’s owners after his Angels blew that huge lead to Seattle in 1995. Where is Bavasi’s do-over? It’s been 12 years. His father went to many a playoff with the Dodgers, but I’m sure he could tell son Bill about the fragility of post-season dreams. Those of you sitting out there, plotting the future of this M’s dynasty, have to realize it may never come. Even if they keep Adam Jones, Clement and Balentien. It still may never come. This team is one Felix Hernandez blown elbow away from having to start over again in its rotation. The future is never guaranteed. Keep that in mind when you argue that the best thing for this team to do is to stand-pat. Do you really believe that?
I think the best thing for this team to do is to try for a playoff berth when offered the chance. I believe this team should try to get better in the rotation. Barring that, I believe making the bullpen strong enough to “shorten the game” by another inning is the next best thing. I don’t believe this bullpen as it now stands completely does that. And I also believe that if “mortgaging the future” for the M’s means trading away a Class AAA player they have no intention of ever making their full-time catcher, or first baseman, then the future is a lot less rosy than some of us believe. Let’s see what happens in the hours ahead.
To “Harris” my seats were fine, thanks. Had a great view of Orlando Cabrera getting under that Morrow pitch and mishitting it into an easy out in center. My view also allowed me to see Cabrera curse the moment he got under the ball, knowing he had failed to get the job done. Morrow got away with one.



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