Nice to see the Mariners finally win two in a row for the first time in a month. I’ll hold off on the “post fight” parade until there are signs that winning can become more than just an occasional indulgence by this team.
As for the future, we should see it start to unfold within a week.
Jose Lopez is still being run out there every day and I’ll assume it’s to showcase him for a trade and not just Don Wakamatsu tying his own hands behind his back even tighter than his own front office has for most of this season. Lopez had a big hit yesterday, but it comes on the heels of an awful week for him at running the bases, situational hitting, fielding and breaking up fights. Like Yuniesky Betancourt a year ago, shoved into the lineup every day at the special request of Jack Zduriencik — who was trying to deal him — this is a situation that looks like it will end, one way or the other, by July 31.
And the M’s might part with another reliever as well, perhaps David Aardsma. I shudder to think of how this team will finish off games if that happens, which is still why I think the M’s won’t do it.
Either way, there should be some roster openings within a week and at that point, I’d expect to see Adam Moore recalled and given the sink-or-swim assignment of catching on a regular basis. We told you last week, in an interview with catching co-ordinator Roger Hansen, that Moore is said to be ready to go.
And really, the future of this team, and whether it can rebuild in fewer than another three or four years, could come down to two of the few remaining Bill Bavasi draft picks on the 40-man roster: Moore and Michael Saunders.
We already know about first baseman Justin Smoak, the guy the M’s acquired as the main component of the Cliff Lee deal. One drawback not often mentioned in the decision to deal for Smoak instead of catcher Jesus Montero of the Yankees is how the Mariners just effectively “blocked” themselves at a position often the easiest to fill power-wise.
A few weeks ago, fans were talking about the possibility of acquiring Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder. Now, that’s out the window. If Smoak is your first baseman, Fielder could only come here as a $50 million designated hitter, which makes very little sense for any team. The M’s already have Russell Branyan for that role and can bring him back for $5 million next season.
Had the M’s traded for Montero, they’d have acquired power at a position where it is very hard to get any and left themself free to pursue the easier-to-find power-hitting first basemen, which is why Joe Mauer is so valued by the Twins and BBWAA members who voted him MVP. With Smoak, they may have the next Mark Teixeira, but have also effectively blocked themselves from pursuing any current Mark Teixeiras through free agency.
So, there will be pressure on Smoak to live up to his billing. Because if he doesn’t, it will be tougher for the Mariners to find that missing power at other positions.
Which brings us to Moore and Saunders.
The Smoak trade has given a new lease on life to Moore within the organization and he now must sieze the day once called up in, I assume, early August.
Moore doesn’t have to become the 30-homer guy that some people expect Montero to be. But he does have to catch the ball and at least start hitting up to expectations, which some have said could see an on-base-plus-slugging percentage in the mid-to-upper .700s.
While that may not sound earth-shattering, an OPS like that has actually become more valued in baseball these days than at any time over the past decade.
Tougher steroids testing was implemented by baseball in the middle of the last decade. Let’s look at what the average AL OPS and slugging percentages have looked like before, during and in the years since stronger testing and punishments were introduced.
2010 — .741 (.410)
2009 — .763 (.428)
2008 — .755 (.420)
2007 — .760 (.423)
2006 — .776 (.437)
2005 — .754 (.424)
2004 — .771 (.433)
2003 — .760 (.427)
2002 — .755 (.424)
2001 — .761 (.428)
2000 — .792 (.443)
There’s a bit of fluctuation there, but the first thing you notice is that this year’s OPS and slugging numbers are way down. That really doesn’t surprise me at all, when you consider that 2005 is when the really tough penalties came in. Right now, we’re at the point where all the rookies or second-year guys breaking in back in 2005 are becoming the prime free agents and hitters you’ll see today. They are the guys teams will be relying on for the bulk of their offense. And if they were frightened away from performance enhancing drugs back in the middle of the last decade, it stands to reason that the prime contributors to today’s offenses will be putting up smaller power numbers.
So, for Moore to be an above-average offensive contributor in a catching role for the M’s, an OPS in the mid-.700s would provide that if .741 is now the average.
Saunders is still below average in terms of league OPS (actually, upon further review, his last two days of hitting just pushed him from .728 to .768, so he is now above average for all hitters). But he has shown an inclination towards raw power, evidenced by his eight home runs in limited at-bats thus far. He still has to better round-out his game and get his on-base-percentage further away from the .300-mark.
But if he can become more of an all-around hitter, the power he has shown so far also has the likelihood of becoming above average in the new baseball landscape. Especially for a left fielder, although, with Ichiro in right field, the Mariners need their left fielders to be more powerful than an Endy Chavez type, simply because they are missing pure power in the other outfield corner.
Saunders still needs work on his defense. I was disappointed in that play the other night that got Chone Figgins in all kinds of trouble. From where I was sitting, it looked like Saunders had a shot to throw out Mike Cameron at second base had he shown a little more urgency in getting the ball back in. He also had to make a much better throw, obviously.
He’s still learning. But this is the kind of stuff Zduriencik and staff will be paying attention to these next two months.
Saunders and Moore are both Bavasi holdovers and there are precious few of those remaining in this organization who have a shot at becoming Mariners regulars. The M’s very nearly traded Saunders to Philadelphia last winter in the original Lee deal and Moore came within 24 hours of being blocked in his own organization by Montero.
They are both living on extra time here and have to make the most of their opportunities right now — not in a year or two. As Wladimir Balentien quickly learned, you only get a limited number of door openings as a prospect and eventually have to leap through the crack.
Moore’s opening should come in another week or so. Saunders is getting his opening right now and will have to start throwing the Cameron types out, as well as hit for consistency to go with his power.
And if both can pull it off and remain as organization regulars, bucking the odds as Bavasi draft picks, this organization could be a lot further along in its rebuild than some may think. Especially if overall AL slugging and OPS numbers continue on their current downward trend.