My colleague, Jerry Brewer, has a column in today’s paper that essentially disagrees with our premise that the Mariners should trade Adam Jones-plus in exchange for Baltimore Orioles pitcher Erik Bedard. Hey, this argument has split the blogosphere right down the middle, so I’m not surprised to see differences of opinion in our own sports department.
But one thing Brewer wrote got me thinking. The part where he writes: “Why disrupt the future if it doesn’t guarantee us a playoff berth?”
Well, I’ll submit the reverse. Why should we make Mariners fans wait another two-plus years on Jones and other prospects when it doesn’t guarantee the team a title in 2010? Believe me, I understand where Brewer is coming from on this and have a pretty good idea of what he meant. But have we really gotten to the point where, in sports, we feel we can statistically predict each season with such exactitude that we cut-and-run unless all the numbers line up a “guarantee” before the games even begin?
What amazes me about the proponents of scrapping a Jones-plus-for-Bedard deal is that they seem so certain that staying the course is going to reap fruit two years down the road. They say that too much will have to go right for the team in 2008 to make the trade worth it.
Well, here’s my view. A whole lot more will have to go right for the Mariners to win in 2010 and beyond.
1. Seattle presently sits in a two-team division, with the Rangers and A’s having all but surrendered the AL West before play even begins. In two years, the A’s plan to be contending again, the Angels should still be stacked piching-wise and the Rangers might have bought themselves enough time to find a clue.
2. The Mariners with Bedard, could be one of the few teams in baseball to enter 2008 with all five of their starting pitchers having posted average-to-above-average ERA scores the previous year. For the team to be in as good a shape in 2010, Felix Hernandez will have had to have matured into the staff ace, Brandon Morrow will have to be thriving as a starter, Philippe Aumont will likely have to be in the majors by his third pro season, or another prospect will have to surprise the team (though Carlos Silva should still be around as the No. 4 guy) and the Mariners will need to have landed a top-flight No. 2 starter via free-agency.
3. Seattle’s bullpen is arguably one of the best in the majors right now and will still be strong even if George Sherrill is dealt in a Bedard swap. Come 2010, J.J. Putz will be a free agent and no one really has any idea what the rest of the bullpen will look like — great, mediocre or terrible.
4. After a Bedard trade, the Mariners should still likely have below-average defense all-around. But come 2010, other than Adam Jones, is there any guarantee the overall defense will be any better? Shouldn’t Ichiro be suffering the same age-related declines by then that we’re told other 30-something players, like Raul Ibanez and Richie Sexson, are guaranteed to have this year? Even if Ichiro is the exception, shouldn’t Jose Lopez-Yuniesky Betancourt be harming the club in the infield since, again we are being told, there is little chance they can improve enough to help the team significantly this year?
I’ll keep it to those four questions for now, just to shorten the length of this post. That’s all off the top-of-my-head. Obviously, I can go on and on.,
But mainly, the point is, the Mariners won 88 games last year. They have a payroll in excess of $100 million. They play in a division where they’ll get 38 games against two clubs that could be among the worst in the AL — something that could be huge in any wild-card race. Their main division foe, the Angels, has not improved by leaps and bounds over last season. Seattle’s biggest problem in 2007 was the starting rotation and there is a chance to make huge gains in that department.
Yes, they have lost some offense by letting Jose Guillen go. Yes, it’s possible Jose Vidro takes a nosedive this season. But who’s to say you can’t replace Vidro’s bat with Wlad Balentien or Jeff Clement at DH if things go wrong? Who’s to say Richie Sexson won’t rebound to at least an average season at the plate instead of the one-year statistical aberration shown in 2007? Maybe the Mariners did have an inflated win total last season, based on their run-differential. But who’s to say those wins aren’t being pumped up somewhat by a stellar bullpen in close games and two weak teams in a four-team division?
Seems to me that the anti Jones-plus-for-Bedard side wants to assume that everything that can go wrong will, while not admitting that at least a few things could go right and easily erase some of the negatives.
It’s not like every playoff team is statistically perfect. Pitching and defense wins championships, right? Then how does one explain the 2007 New York Yankees, a 94-win wild-card team? The Yankees had below-average pitching, with an ERA+ of 99, terrible defense (almost as bad as Seattle’s) and yet beat out all other wild-card teams with an above average OPS+ of 118. Think that was a fluke?
OK, then how about 2006? The Yankees had a slightly above average ERA+ of 102, and an offense with an OPS+ of 112. So, slightly better pitching, slightly worse offense and I’ll assume the defense wasn’t much different. New York won 97 games and the AL East — a much more competitive division overall than the AL West should be this year.
Seattle’s offense isn’t going to get that much better, even with Jones in the lineup. But acquiring Bedard has the probability of lifting the Mariners up to an ERA+ of 110 or better, making them above average in that department. The OPS+ of 104 from last year could drop down to right around league average. The defense could be slightly worse than last year, or slightly better depending on who replaces Jones and the progression of the middle infield. So, are the Mariners (with Bedard) statistically any worse off than the Yankees were the last two years? I’d say no.
And I’d also say that there are never any guarantees in sports. If any of you can show me some for 2010, I’d love to see them.
p.s. — Thanks for all of your emails concerning our upcoming live blog event. We’re still nailing the date down. If you have any suggestions/comments for what you’d like to see, feel free to post them or email me about it.