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

August 1, 2007 at 10:25 AM

So much for so little

Spent the morning poring over your emails and comments in all the threads from yesterday’s marathon sessions. By the way, we obliterated our previous monthly hits count record. Haven’t received yesterday’s numbers yet, but heading into the day, we were already at a 50 percent increase over the hits received in June. Those are some incredible numbers, so pat yourselves on the back.
They also state the obvious: that we have many new readers and commenters coming aboard. Once again, let’s keep it all civil. Things seem to have levelled off after the madness of last week on the posting boards. We are monitoring them and trying to be very liberal in what we allow. Just don’t push it too far.
Speaking of pushing things too far, if I read one more story or column congratulating Bill Bavasi for doing nothing to improve his team at the July 31 trade deadline, I think I’ll have to gag on my computer monitor. I mean, really. The fact that Bavasi’s predecessors made some bad moves years before he even got to Seattle should have zero bearing on the merits of what he did this year.
For every bad “Woody” move at the deadline, I can give you others made by Bavasi’s contemporaries that helped put their teams over-the-top. One of my favorites was Twins GM Terry Ryan absolutely fleecing J.P. Ricciardi of Toronto in 2003 by acquiring Shannon Stewart (with the Blue Jays paying his remaining salary) for bit performer Bobby Kielty. Stewart propelled the Twins to a division title and finished top-5 in MVP voting that year. And it wasn’t, as I mentioned, even a salary dump. Why I liked it so much was that, for about two weeks, Ryan had fingers wagged at him by pundits all across North America chortling that he was foolish to have given up on as promising a young outfielder as Kielty for an overpriced (once again, cost didn’t actually enter the equation) veteran like Stewart (who had only hit .300 and scored 100 runs per season his entire career).
Anyway, the laughing stopped about two weeks later, once these pundits took a look at Stewart and saw what he was doing for the Twins. Ricciardi saved his own hide by pawning Kielty off on the Oakland A’s for pitcher Ted Lilly, which amounted to a saw-off talent-wise until Lilly upped his performance two years later with about four weeks remaining in his Toronto career.
Another series of moves I liked was the boldness shown by Red Sox GM Theo Epstein in dealing away iconic Boston shortstop Nomar Garciaparra and promising outfielder Matt Murton to the Chicago Cubs in 2004, receiving first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz from Minnesota and Orlando Cabrera from Montreal in return. Yes, they were short-term moves and in the long-run, they may have worked out better for opponents than they did for the Red Sox.
But in the short-term, the defensive upgrade that Mientkiewicz and Cabrera provided likely propelled Boston to the World Series title that year. I don’t know about you, but I’d take that. Take it in a flash and worry about my standing in the all-prospects league some other time.
The reason I bring this up? Simple. There is more than one way to skin a cat come the trade deadline. More than one way to pick up value, or evaluate the value of a trade. If I’d told you the Bosox were shipping off Garciaparra’s bat in 2004 for a couple of all-glove, no-hit infielders (at the height of the “Moneyball” craze, when defense was supposedly an overvalued commodity) how many of you would have told me that was an “impact” trade?
Those of you raising your hands, quit kidding yourselves and put them down. Please. You know that not one of you would have. Truth be told, I probably wouldn’t have either. And I understood the logic of what Epstein did at the time.
I think about that deal when I read over your emails and thoughtful insights on how acquiring an eighth inning setup man for the M’s really wouldn’t have made an impact on the team. Really? You believe that? Wow, then this franchise sure wasted a lot of time and energy trying to acquire one of those non-impact guys these past few weeks. I mean, why didn’t Bavasi, Norm Charlton and company simply keep their travel money and knock off to the movie theatre to watch Oceans 11, 12 and 13, or one of those James Bond marathons? I’d have done that rather than waste my time going through a big production like they did.
Thing is, you don’t know how much of an impact a move will have on a team’s fortunes until it’s made. Who would have guessed, in the summer of 2003, that all it would take to tranform the Twins from underachievers into a title winner was an underappreciated guy like Stewart? A leadoff hitter who didn’t draw any walks at that! Who knew?
You know, considering all the outside-the-box, enlightened thinking I’m used to seeing locally on a variety of baseball issues, I’m astounded at how unanimously mainstream and predictable the thought process on Bavasi’s inaction has been. Perhaps it is, as some of you have mentioned, relief at the fact he didn’t get the chance to botch another trade. That’s a pretty fatalistic way of looking at things.
At least one of you suggested an interesting way of seeing whether or not I will be ‘vindicated” in my stance. Something about looking at all the eighth inning opportunities from here on in, subbing them with an opposing reliever with zero runs allowed…yada, yada…I’ll make it easier. Let’s see how many starters fail to go at least six innings from here on in, the way Jeff Weaver did last night. Then, let’s see how many starters do go six innings, only to lose a game in which they were either tied or leading.
Because what I have said, from the outset, was that this team had to improve in the starting rotation. Some within the organization believe there was nothing out there better than what the Mariners currently have. I find that hard to believe. I can tell you that Matt Morris, who I’m no big fan of, probably would have pitched better than Jeff Weaver did last night. Probably would have pitched better than Horacio Ramirez has in most of his road outings. If not Morris, then someone else. But the Mariners didn’t like what they saw. And it was, in fact, only one bad Weaver outing in the past six weeks. So, I won ‘t jump the gun. Yet.
My alternative, then, if the M’s weren’t going to better themselves in the rotation, was to make their bullpen so airtight that it became a six-inning game for the starters. Give the bullpen the lead or a tie score after six, or even in the sixth inning, and the game is pretty much over. That’s the approach Epstein took with the Red Sox once again this year, going out and getting Eric Gagne with prospects and money. Epstein already had a great bullpen. But he just made it impregnable. He just shortened the game.
I had advocated the M’s acquiring Gagne, even at a steep price, only to be shouted down by many of you who claimed such relievers were easy to find elsewhere at a lesser cost. OK, then. So, where are they? Why have the M’s not acquired them?
They are already here, you say? Well, let’s see…the last time I checked, Gagne wasn’t allowing lefties to hit .300 off him. He wasn’t working his way back from a pioneer-type of elbow surgery. And he hadn’t spent his entire career as a situational lefty before this year. Nor was he playing college ball last season, nor walking a batter per inning this year.
This bullpen may turn out to be really good. But it is not unbeatable from the sixth or seventh inning on. If the M’s had acquired a dependable eighth-inning setup guy (and the numbers say that Al Reyes is better than any of the eighth-inning righties the M’s now have) they would have been a step closer to that goal. They could have done all of John McLaren’s mixing and matching in the seventh inning instead of the eighth. And then, the team’s failure to pick up another starting pitcher would have been muted by lessening the need of the rotation to go deep into games.
It wouldn’t have helped the M’s win last night’s game. That falls into the “acquiring another starter” realm. But a game-shortening bullpen might have helped Weaver or Ramirez, or Felix Hernandez win more on nights when they can offer up at least five-plus innings.
You have to look at the total impact of a move, not just the move itself. And yes, it would have cost the team a prospect or two. Playoff berths don’t come cheap. Many of you assume the team will be in this exact position a year from now, vindicated by still having Adam Jones, Wladimir Balentien and Jeff Clement in its arsenal. But what if the M’s are a third-place, .500 team by then? Entierly possible, given the superior starting pitching and equivalent bullpens of both the Angels and A’s when fully healthy? How will you feel then, especially if this M’s club doesn’t make the playoffs in 2007?
This isn’t about arguing a position to death. But again, I am amazed at the lack of diversity in the thinking on this topic in a Seattle baseball community that is usually all over the map in its opinions. Never before have I seen a GM so lauded for doing so little to bolster his team. Hey, maybe doing nothing will prove the best course for this team. But at least wait until that result plays out before pinning the medal of honor on a guy, giving him a standing ovation and such.
Is this opinion unanimous around baseball? No, it is not.
We know what Keith Law thought about a proposed Balentien-Octavio Dotel deal and his relief the M’s didn’t pull the trigger. I like Law’s baseball knowledge and respect his opinions. But on the same site, his colleague, fantasy baseball writer Tristan Cockroft, warns readers they might want to “sell high” on the Mariners moving forward.
“Pitching was the Mariners’ trade-deadline target,” he writes in his trade deadline recap, “but the team fell short in the sweepstakes for Octavio Dotel, Matt Morris, Al Reyes and Dontrelle Willis. Seattle’s stand-pat stance is actually a bad thing for the team; the Mariners ranked 26th in starters’ ERA (5.01), and with Horacio Ramirez still in the rotation and Jeff Weaver always a risk to revert to his old inconsistent ways, J.J. Putz shouldn’t be expected to retain his torrid pace. He has saves in 31 of the Mariners’ past 90 games, with a 0.60 ERA in 41 appearances during that span. The overachieving Mariners could be in for a disappointing final two months, so be prepared if your team is counting on too many of them.”
Jeff Passan over at Yahoo Sports, one of my favorite young baseball writers, lumped the M’s in as one of his trade deadline losers in listing clubs that had failed to secure Eric Gagne’s services.
“The Gagne whiffs: Condolences to Seattle, Milwaukee, Detroit and the New York Mets, whose fans will cringe at every lead from hereon blown in the eighth inning.”
Passan was on KJR yesterday and told the host his biggest trade deadline surprise was that the Mariners failed to pick up any pitching whatsoever.
In Chicago, national baseball writer Phil Rogers declared the Angels and Mariners as his No. 1 trade losers.
“1 (tie) Angels and Mariners: With their teams playing in Seattle, you wonder if Bill Stoneman and Bill Bavasi were squirreled away together in some Starbucks, with Bavasi vowing to sit on his hands if Stoneman did likewise,” Rogers wrote in the Chicago Tribune. “Otherwise there’s no explaining how neither of these teams made a move to get better.
“Stoneman pursued Teixeira but didn’t have a fallback move in him, deciding simply to wait for Juan Rivera in September. Seattle talked a lot about adding some experience to the bullpen or even a front-line starter like Jon Garland. Bavasi had some intriguing bargaining chips to play (especially power-hitting outfielder Wladimir Balentien and catcher Jeff Clement, both of whom seem blocked) but couldn’t get a deal done.”
The point of this is not to vindicate my position. I have disagreed with at least two of the above mentioned writers on many an occasion. If the Mariners go on to win this division, or at least claim the wild-card, without making a move, then Bavasi will have been vindicated. For now, though, I’ll leave the applause for him having done nothing to help his team to others. So long as I am in charge of this blog, it will remain a forum where folks can tune in for a wide range of thinking and to disagree with me on any topic they choose.
Have fun. I know it’s going to be an interesting day on the comments thread.



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