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May 19, 2008 at 8:54 PM

Mailbag time

It’s been a while since we did one of these and I know how much you enjoyed it the last time. Be warned, this is not quite the mailbag you’ll find on MLB.com. So, if you’re looking to dish some out and not take it, better have your tissues ready. As for those of you with serious questions, we’ll answer those as well.
Q: Why does Richie Sexon get a free pass from you Geoff? More importantlly, what was the Mariners backup plan going into the season for a 1st baseman that barely broke the Mendoza line last season and continues to perform at that level this season?
— Sexson is Mendoza
A: We weren’t really dealing with Sexson today, but if you want. Devoted an entire blog post to Sexson three weeks ago: “Sexson, while not producing nearly enough as a first baseman overall, is still one of the better offensive producers on his team at this very moment.”
So, how is that a free pass? We’ve been on Sexson’s case since last year. At the time the blog post came out, on May 1, he was showing signs of improvement, but has since regressed. Sexson has only three hits in his last 30 at-bats and his .686 OPS is seriously hurting this team. We wrote back on May 1 that Sexson was not this team’s biggest trouble spot and that the team could give him another month. Not at this rate. It looks like the suspension threw his timing off but he was not doing all that great beforehand. He needs to get it going on this trip. There are not a whole lot of options to replace him with at the moment. So, to answer your question, there is no backup plan. Not when you’re paying a guy $14 million. Some of you would like to stick Raul Ibanez at first base and that’s a last-ditch option, I suppose, if Jeremy Reed shows he can play the outfield every day. But that’s shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic. The truth is, without Sexson getting his bat going again, this team is done. And if he can’t get it going, those who want Bill Bavasi gone will have their prime ammunition for it.
Q: Why in the world do you believe that evaluating a player by throwing out his accomplishments in blow outs is valid? Are you going to credit Clement and Wlad for not wasting hits when they didn’t do well in blowouts? Or dock Wilkerson for his performance?
— Jakob
A: No, nothing that radical. And Balentien did hit a fourth home run I forgot about in a winning cause against Texas one day. But breaking down the homers was done to underscore a point that Balentien’s other numbers, namely a .265 on-base percentage, have been pretty bad. Without the three useless dingers, you’d all be looking at him as a sub-.600 OPS hitter and in the same boat as Clement and Jose Vidro. Yes, it’s nice to see some power from Balentien. But he’s been an all-or-nothing guy so far. Aside from the home runs in mostly lost causes, he’s done very little to help the team. More than Clement. But not all that much more. His defense has been adequate, not great.
Q: Nice attempt at an argument on keeping Vidro around. Now I’d like to see an argument along the same lines for Cairo.
–Joe
A: OK, let’s try:
Clement .167/.286/.250
Cairo .188/.278/.219
Um, let’s see. Cairo has him in batting average, but loses the OPS race based solely on that misjudged triple Clement had bounce his way in Texas? And Cairo plays multiple positions and has some speed. Oh yeah, and he has one more game-winning hit. How’s that? Not great? Yeah, I know. Seriously, this is an argument I can’t get my heart around. You got me. Clement should be recalled and installed as the second pinch-runner ASAP.


Q: So, apparently the “Geoff Baker method” of salvaging the season for team that thought it was A LOT better than it really was, is to call up your hottest hitting minor league players, throw them into the breach for 2 weeks or so and when that doesn’t work send them back down and try the next hot hitter?
— Jason
A: Uh, no. It’s to find anybody who hits better than Jose Vidro at his absolute worst. Clement somehow hit worse than a sore-backed Vidro during a limited stint that saw his team knocked to the brink. Balentien hit better than Brad Wilkerson or anyone else still around who could play right field and that’s why he’s still here. The “Geoff Baker method” would be flexible and vary in accordance with how much time is left for a team to realistically “save” a season. If this team had three months, it could sit and wait for Clement to stop looking overmatched. But it doesn’t have that long. Its season could realistically be over by week’s end. The same reason Clement was promoted — urgency — is now the same reason he’s been demoted.
Q: Why not try and catch the lightning in a bottle that the Rockies did last year? Leaving or placing known commodities in the lineup and telling them to not suck won’t work any better than working through the kids growing pains.
— stripesjr
A: Good question. The big difference is there were no expectations on the Rockies when the season began. Hence, if their entire plan blew up, folks would have yawned and chalked it all up to a bad team performing badly. Here, the fan base had the entire front office’s head on a roasting spit when the team dipped below .500 on the first road trip of the season. So, there were expectations, whether or not you felt the M’s would actually win the division. I don’t remember too many of you predicting a 90-loss season in March. The fans of Seattle can’t install their own version of a Hot Seat and simply expect folks to sit and patiently roast on it.
And since the known commodities don’t have to get used to major league baseball as a regular player for the first time, it is a little different for them. Perhaps a healthier Vidro truly will give this team something to get it through the next two weeks now that his back feels better. If not, then he’s no better or worse than Clement and the team likely goes down the drain anyway. But you’ve got to try something. At this point, the desperate stage is setting in, no doubt about it.
Q: “Perfecting the defense?” C’mon. We’re worse at defense than we are scoring runs. Lots of things to fix. Just wish there were a way to do both at once.
— Mike
A: That’s debatable. This team is pretty bad offensively. Don’t let those handful of 12 and 8-run games that skew the overall total fool you. The M’s can’t score more than three runs on many a night. You could gradually try to change the D and the O at the same time. I just think that if you rush too many pieces into place at once, you risk hurting Ibanez in the short-term and losing whatever offense you have left. At this stage, when you’re losing games 3-1, or 4-2, I think you can continue to sacrifice some defense. Lose them 8-7 and 6-5 all the time, I’d say the defense is priority No. 1, because scoring runs wouldn’t be the problem. But that’s just me. Ibanez, by the way, isn’t the problem here. He’ll do whatever the team tells him to. It’s that sharper baseball minds than you or me realize the potential for disaster by shuffling players around like cards in a poker hand. You have to handle human beings with care. Especially your best hitter.
Q: “What can a healthier Jose Vidro offer? At worst, he’ll be as bad as Clement.”
No, that’s not the case. He is performing below Clement’s level because he offers no positional value. He is a DH with no defensive skills (and is a liability in the field). Clement plays a premium position in a serviceable way, so even some lower output numbers are made more valuable by the fact that Clement has something to offer on both sides of the dish. Let me be clear – I thought it was a mistake for Clement to be called up because he couldn’t catch everyday. That said, he’s better than Vidro right now. Period.
— M’s Fan in CO Exile
A: I guess I’m not following. How does Clement catching one game a week make him more valuable than Jose Vidro? I really don’t want to argue Vidro’s case here, because he isn’t giving me much to use. But by your logic, Jamie Burke was team MVP last season. OK, maybe that’s a little extreme. But as you said, Clement isn’t going to catch every day. Heck, I’d be the best street hockey player among the Mariners press corps if that was ever going to be part of our daily jobs. But it isn’t. And it won’t be for Clement, at least not from where I’m seeing it. And when Clement was catching, he was taking games behind the plate away from Burke, a capable hitter, so I’m not sure what the value in that was. This is why I asked Bill Bavasi at the Johjima press conference in April what his plans were for Clement. Tried to get some answers as to what his future plans for him were because it didn’t sound like catching was the big one. And unless Clement is getting some serious playing time behind the plate, as you’ve alluded to, his value overall is diminished. And if he’s up here for his bat, then a .167 average and no slugging power makes him useless over the short term. If Vidro repeats his numbers this next week, then Vidro will be useless over the short term. And by next week, this team will be out of it and Clement can come back up here to try to hit, be a third catcher, or learn a new position. There will be ample time for learning then.
Q: Hey Geoff Wladimir Balentien has more Homeruns then Jeff Francouer and as Many Homeruns as Vladimir Guererro two very good RF’s in half as many games.And by the way you forgot his 3 run Homerun against Texas in a game we WON.
— K-Swag
A: Yes, you’re right. As I mentioned up top, I did forget that one important Balentien homer. I stand humbled on that. As far as him having more home runs than Jeff Francoeur and Vlad Guerrero, well…
On-base-percentage:
Guerrero: .326
Francoeur: .307
Balentien: .265
Even when you cherry-pick two power hitters having bad years, you find Balentien’s OBP dwarfed by them. And that’s the problem I have so far. Balentien’s home run potential does impress me in his first three weeks as a full-timer. It’s everything else he does the other 90 percent of the time he’s up that worries me. His slugging numbers are all based off those handful of homers. The on-base numbers are bad and he strikes out a ton. I’m not saying to send him back down to Class AAA. I’m saying that having another guy around to push him a couple of times a week would not be a bad thing.
Q: I really don’t understand why you don’t think defense is a major problem with this team. This is arguably the worst defensive team in baseball. If you don’t think that is a problem, I don’t know what to say. Maybe Bavasi and McLaren have sufficiently brainwashed you.
Putting Reed in LF and Ibanez at DH makes the team better, period. It really is that simple. And who really cares if offense seems to be a more glaring weakness? If you can make a team better with a simple (YES, IT IS SIMPLE) move of putting Reed in LF and Ibanez at DH, you do it.
— Adam
A: Yes, in theory, that is true. But in theory, Jeff Clement was going to hit better than Jose Vidro. He didn’t. At least, not in the 15 games he was up here. In theory, you should be able to post intelligent questions on the blog without a bunch of sorry types copying your name and ruining it for everybody else with lame attempts at humor. But this also wasn’t the case.
Again, if Reed hits .167 (like Clement did) as a starting left fielder, his defense alone won’t matter. Not for a team scoring three runs or less most games of late. Especially if a healthier Vidro can hit something remotely close to what he did last year. Then, the moves you’ve proposed (benching Vidro and moving Reed to a full-time spot) would not automatically make the team better in the short-term. And short term, as in very short, is all that matters right now to this team trying not to be knocked too far out. I agree that over the long term, what you’re saying should pan out. But this team doesn’t have long term to experiment with. It has to get these next moves right or there might not be a next time that matters until 2009. You make sure Reed can hit by using him a bit in right, maybe a bit in left too, then you worry about handing him a full-time position. You still don’t know if he’ll hit.
Q: A question for you, Geoff: how does Clement learn to hit major league pitching in Tacoma after already dominating AAA?
— MLG
A: He doesn’t. He goes back down, gets some confidence back by making contact with some balls again and thinks about what went wrong for him this time around. He learns from his experience, gears himself mentally and sits prepared to come back up and do a better job the next time he’s called. That’s life in the big leagues. The train comes by and you jump on it when you can, or else you sometimes have to wait for it to come around again. For every Tulowitzki, there’s three other guys needing a chance. Gregg Zaun is an everyday catcher in the big leagues now after years of toiling as a backup and a minor leaguer. He claims he was ready years earlier but never got a fair shot. That’s baseball life. Not everyone gets a free ticket to ride because of potential. Plenty of guys “master” Class AAA, but don’t get a full-time shot at the big leagues right away. Clement got his earlier than expected because of some happenings. He didn’t make the most of it. Life is unfair. We know. Tell that to war refugees. See what they have to say on the subject.

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