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

December 22, 2008 at 11:58 AM

Waiting out the frozen market

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Greetings from a paralyzed city. Those of you who read us regularly from outside the Washington area might be wondering just why a mid-sized, hardly-crippling snowfall has left Seattle unable to function for days. For an answer, just look down our street in Magnolia. Hasn’t been touched by a plow. Nor seen any salt other than what might fall off some takeout fries. The result is a downhill ski run that some parents have unwisely allowed their children to use for sledding practice (despite the fact the road remains open on the upper stretches). In fact, the above photo was taken before the weekend snow made it even more impassable. Your car could make it down the first slope you see without problem as long as you go about 5 m.p.h. Try going further, though, and you are liable to go on the thrill-ride of your life. We’ve seen too many vehicles attempt it, only to go spiralling out of control in a 360-degree twirling path down a 100-foot stretch of road with only a lower crest to slow them down — allowing the driver to stop by plowing into a curb. If that doesn’t work, the car goes over the next slope, and can stop by crashing into a series of parked cars. It’s a miracle nobody has been seriously injured. I understand Seattle has limited snow plows compared to the army of them that I saw growing up in Montreal. But while police have closed off the lower portion of the street, no signs have been posted up top to warn motorists of the danger. That’s just poor planning. Somebody in charge has to take responsibility and protect the people who live here.
Some of my neighbors, wisely, have used garbage cans to actually block off their own streets, knowing that any cars attempting them — never mind chains or four-wheel drive — will go plummeting down out of control. That’s not technically their responsibility, but they’ve taken it upon themselves and good for them. The key to getting through weather-related turmoil, which I’ve experienced in some other cities, is for folks to maintain civility. That means no fighting in a crowded bus. No pushing people out of the way at the grocery store. Just help each other out. And hope that our elected officials get their act together. The lack of preparedness here is astounding to me. I know it doesn’t snow all that often. You don’t get tsunamis all that often in Thailand, either. But this is a northern city in a state that borders Canada, for crying out loud. There’s no excuse to be caught this off-guard. It snows in the winter. If you don’t have enough plows to keep the streets clear, hire private contractors to help out. I’m sure they could use the economic boost. The sight of crashed buses dangling over a highway should have been a wakeup call. But it’s now three days later.
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Anyhow, we’ve since moved on from Magnolia to my place in Ballard, which, as you can see from the above shot this morning, is snowed under. But at least we can walk to restaurants, shops and other places without having to risk driving on unplowed streets. And if you have to drive, the streets are at least flat enough to navigate without a military vehicle. As for the airlines…as my mother always said, “If you don’t have anything good to say about somebody…”
Actually, I’ll say this. De-icer fluid is a neccessity in northern states, whether or not you are fortunate to live outside a snow belt. To have your reserves run out after just two “storms” that would rate as average in any northeastern or midwest city is inexcusable. Your customers — the folks keeping you in business — should not have to sleep with their kids on the airport floor because of your logistical problems. Next time, make sure you have a backup plan that takes into account that the Snoqualmie Pass tends to get snowed under this time of year and could delay shipments. Or, keep more de-icer fluid in stock at the airport. Enough to last more than two snowfalls. I sure hope this shortage wasn’t due to any cost-saving measures by airlines because it’s inconvenienced far too many people simply trying to get home for the holidays and paying a premium in airfare for it. This is just another example of poor performance from an industry becoming legendary for it. Trust me, I fly often enough to see what’s going on.
That out of the way, let’s talk some baseball.
The Mark Teixeira sweepstakes is apparently keeping the free-agent market at a standstill. For both hitters and some pitchers. Once he figures out whether he’s going to make $20 million per year, or $22 million, we should have some action.
One reason the market remains as frozen as the streets outside is that lesser free agents are hoping Teixeira, Manny Ramirez and other elite hitters can break the bank and raise the market for them. Raul Ibanez sure didn’t do it with his Phillies deal. These secondary hitters, like Milton Bradley, Adam Dunn and Jason Giambi, won’t be playing defensively every day the way Ibanez will and know they likely just saw their figures go down when he signed for three years, $31.5 million, while Juan Rivera went back to the Angels for three years, $12.75 million. And it’s the secondary hitters who appear to be the best fit in Seattle and can truly help the Mariners.
We’re going to see, in the coming weeks, exactly where the Mariners think they’re headed in the next year or two.

For instance, do the M’s cobble together a DH duo out of Jeff Clement and a right handed bat, like Kenji Johjima, or Chris Shelton? With both catchers alternating at the spot on days they don’t start behind the plate? Or, do they go out and spend on a free-agent like Milton Bradley, who I consider one of the best “bargain” bats out there.
Now, when I say bargain, I mean in relation to Teixeira and Ramirez. And likely Dunn as well. Those three bats are going to be paid as hitters who man positions defensively. And that will drive their cost up. Just like Ibanez was paid $10.5 million per year as a left fielder, not a DH.
If the team goes after Bradley, it should be as a DH and nothing else. And that, in theory, should keep his cost lower than for those other players. Of course, when multiple teams bid on a guy, costs can rise and there has to be a point where the M’s walk away. Bradley’s .999 OPS last year was the best in the American League. Some will note that his batting average on balls put into play was abnormally high at .388 (almost 100 points more than what is considered normal). That signals a possible dropoff to come, though, when you’re beginning at an OPS of 1.000 or so, there is plenty of room for a dropoff that won’t be lethal. In fact, the CHONE projection system picks Bradley to have an OPS of .892, which would make him the top M’s power hitter by a country mile.
Bradley is a switch-hitter, meaning he’d be a true, full-time DH. And that’s what he has to be. He’s injury prone and had only 414 at-bats last season. Keep him off the field and he’ll be more likely to stay healthy. If you can get him for under $10 million per season, he might be worth a serious look. This team has some money saved by getting Ibanez off the books. Others like Richie Sexson and Jose Vidro are gone as well and Adrian Beltre will be within the next 12 months. There’s nothing wrong with spending a bit (not breaking the bank, just spending a bit more than usual) to bring in some power. This team needs power. I’m not sure that, if you get it through the DH spot, you will have to find another left fielder. You might be able to leave the outfield as-is for now.
This team still has Wladimir Balentien, whose best position is in left field. He showed flashes of power last season and I’m not sure one year of major league ball is enough to make a call on him. If you can add a potential .900 OPS guy at DH, for less money than you would have had to pay Ibanez to play left field had he accepted arbitration, then I think Balentien can be given a “developmental” year in left, with Endy Chavez backing him up.
It’s been widely assumed that Jeff Clement would be the one getting the “developmental” year as a DH and part-time catcher. But maybe this team goes a different route. Maybe it signs a full-time DH and lets Clement fight for playing time behind the plate. Or, maybe both he and Balentien have developmental years where Clement sees action as a catcher, and a backup DH to Bradley. It would likely mean fewer ABs for him, but maybe you make him earn those ABs for now. There are a lot of ways this team can go. But I think it can bolster the offense significantly by spending some money on a real DH, allow developing players to get playing time, and maybe do more this year than try to win 75 games.
We’ll see. But I think we should have a better idea in coming weeks of what this team really wants to do. Some in the blogosphere, and not just locally, think the M’s could surprise some folks in 2009 with a few more decent moves. If the M’s go out and spend some money on someone like Bradley, it might be an indication that the people running the team feel the exact same way.
p.s. Be careful walking the streets today as the temperature warms up, especially near tall buildings. What happens in times like these is that ice and snow on rooftops can break off and come hurtling at the pedestrians below. Often, these boulders weigh over 100 pounds and can kill you. I’m serious and it’s happened in plenty of cities before. Just be mindful of it, especially downtown. And remember to stick together and be courteous.



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