Wednesday, December 9, 2009

2010 Team Analysis: Seattle Mariners

Seattle Mariners:

2009 Record: 85-77

General Manager: Jack Zduriencik

 Manager: Don Wakamatsu

Organizational Philosophy: The Mariners have one of the better front offices in baseball led by Jack Zduriencik who made his name scouting and acquiring much of the young talent now leading the Milwaukee Brewers. The M’s did well this season diversifying their roster which focused on cheap defensive-minded talent while stockpiling on young pitching.

This team is very aggressive in moving its young prospects through the ranks.  So far the results have been less than spectacular on that front but with another year of Jack Z. weighing in on the team's draft picks things should look up very soon.

2010 Commitments:
Starting Rotation:

Felix Hernandez ($3.8M; arb eligible)
Ian Snell ($4.45M)
Ryan Rowland-Smith ($420K)
Brandon Morrow ($425K)
Luke French ($400K)
Jason Vargas ($405K)

The Mariner pitching staff did lead the AL with a 3.87 ERA last season and with free agent Erik Bedard and Jarrod Washburn set to go this team will probably be looking for a stable innings-eater to compliment Felix Hernandez

Hernandez is eligible for arbitration and doesn't qualify for free agency until after the 2011 season.  There have been reports that the M's are focused on getting King Felix to sign a longterm contract.  Since he came up at the age of 19, this Cy Young candidate has lived up to his promise and if talks stall I would expect this team to see what they could get in a trade.  It will be a blockbuster if that happens.

Ian Snell was picked up in a buy-low situation last season.  Over the past three seasons we have seen a steady decrease in his K rate (down to 5.52 overall last season) and an upswing in his BB's (5.15), his situation in Pittsburgh was getting bad and many suggested that a new home may benefit him.  Snell has always been good at being stingy with the HR's and Safeco's dimensions does further compliment this strength.  Snell has always had a very capable slider and for the past three seasons he has reduced his dependance on that pitch (down from 37% in '07 to 15.4% last season).  This could be one of many problems where Snell needs to adjust; he is fooling opposing hitters less since '07 and contact against him has risen. 

Ryan Rowland-Smith's evaporating K rate does seem troubling to me. Since coming to the pros, RRS posted K rates in the 10's in AA and AAA a few years ago.  After seeing time with the parent club his K rate has fallen to 4.86 last season from 5.86 in 2008.  RRS did get by with a low BB rate in the 2's and benefited from a BABIP of .262. 

Brandon Morrow needs to get his BB's down if he wants to stay in the rotation.  His mid-90's fastball does, however, make him a favorite among those putting together various 2010 projections.  Morrow has been battling an assortment of arm issues and his status as a Type 1 diabetic does leave some doubting if he will ever have the stanima to be a fulltime starter.  I think it best to try him out as a starting pitcher since his secondary pitches (if properly developed) would go quite nicely with his fastball.

Most see Luke French as a middle reliever down the road.  If his slider can remain a plus he should have some value.

Jason Vargas will be 27 at the start of next season and has been punted by two other organizations.  He is an extreme FB pitcher who needs to keep his command in order to counter his low K rate.  Not very exciting.

On the prospect side, the team made a curious decision to rush 21 year old Phillippe Aumont through the minors as a reliever.  He seemed stuck at AA due to very high BB rate (5.60) but his K's did jump to an impressive 12.23.  The M's stuck to the game plan and used Aumont as a reliever in the AFL winter league where he did struggle with his secondary pitches and walked 7 in 11 IP. I would hope the M's stick to the original plan and start Aumont in AA as a starter next season but I think the organization feels that the best path for this raw Canadien is the bullpen.

20 year old Michael Pineda is another year away from consideration.  His stuff isn't overwhelming (88-92 mph fastball, plus slider) but his numbers have been impressive in a hitter friendly havens.  Last season, Pineda battled through elbow tightness but he came back in August and threw 16.2 IP with 26 K's and 1 BB.  Let's see how he holds up this season in AA before talking about him for 2011.


David Aardsma ($420K; arb eligible)
Mark Lowe ($418K; arb eligible)
Carlos Silva ($12.75M)
Shawn Kelley ($400K)
Yusmeiro Petit ($411K)
Garrett Olson ($420K)
Doug Fister ($400K)
Ryan Feierabend ($405K)

I'm expecting David Aardsma to regress a bit next season.  Despite a fastball that ranked high in terms of value, I am a little worried about his high frequency of BB's and excessive flyball's could do if his BABIP ever gets a bit high (it was .273 last season).  I know he pitches in Safeco with an above average defense patrolling the OF for him but I'm sure those low number of HR's in correlation to the 53% of flyballs allowed have to eventually correct themselves.

Mark Lowe can be a spot closer if Aardsma struggles.  Last season his fastball averaged at 96 mph and his slider has been quite effective.  Lowe did struggle with 10 blown saves and his fastball has been described as "flat." 

Carlos Silva is a bad signings from the previous administration.  He is untradeable and his pathetic K rate sunk to a new low last season (2.97).  He is here, mainly, as a spot starter and mop-up man.

Shawn Kelley posted some very impressive K/BB ratios.  He was stung by a few HR's due to the high level of flyballs allowed.  He'll be a key figure in this bullpen next season.

Yusimero Petit ($411K) was once an over-hyped Marlin prospect and then became a disappointing D-Back project. His numbers in the minors have always been impressive but fly ball pitchers who top off with fastballs in the high 80’s never seem to succeed on average.  The Mariners picked him up off waivers earlier last month to see if the confines and defense at Safeco will agree with him more.

There is a good chance that Doug Fister will be in the rotation next season.  His numbers are pretty neutral in terms of FB's and GB's allowed and I am expecting his high FB/HR totals to come down a bit next season.  Fister has shown good command and if he can get his K's up a bit he will be incredibly valuable in the back of this rotation.

Garrett Olson was once a prized Oriole prospect until his fastball proved to be quite hittable.  He has relied more on his curve and changeup but he shouldn't be considered anything more than situational lefty.

On the field:

C: Rob Johnson ($400K)
C: Adam Moore ($400K)
1B: Mike Carp ($400K)
2B: Jose Lopez ($2M)
SS: Jack Wilson ($5M)
SS: Jack Hannahan ($410K)
3B: Chone Figgins
LF: Michael Saunders ($400K)
LF: Ryan Langerhans ($450K)
CF: Franklin Gutierrez ($450K)
CF: Bill Hall ($8.5M in which MIL pays roughly $7.1M of ’10 salary)
RF: Ichiro Suzuki ($18M)
DH: Ken Griffey Jr. ($2.3M)

C Kenji Johjima decided to opt out of his contract in order to return to Japan.  He leaves the M's with $16M in found money but also leaves a big hole in the catching position.

Among the available catchers, Adam Moore has more upside offensively.  He has shown he can hit for power in the minors.  Moore did strikeout frequently during his brief stint with the M's and may not be ready as a fulltime catcher next season.  Rob Johnson did split time with Johjima last season and profiles as an above average defensive catcher.  His bat rates as a backup catcher at best.

Free agent Russ Branyan posted one of his best offensive years last season with the Mariners; however, a mid-season back injury could bring his value down despite the one-year deal from the M's he declined last month.  Next season, Branyan will be 34 and is a strikeout machine (his low contact % does suggest he is a .250 hitter at best), but he may pose good value next season until 23 year old Mike Carp is ready. 

Jose Lopez will be 27 years old at the start of next season and after posting career highs in doubles, home runs and RBI's.  Lopez is an average defender at 2B and will probably keep the position warm until he files for free agency after the 2011 season.  Lopez doesn't walk much and his batting average seems dependant on how lucky he is in terms of BABIP.  For the salary he is being paid, Lopez is worth it.

The Mariners were able to get SS Jack Wilson to restructure his contract.  Wilson plays solid defense but he isn't getting any younger (31) and he has battled hamstring issues last season.  He doesn't walk too much and the little power he provides limits him, good thing the M's were able to get a slight discount from the $8.4M to 2 years at $10M total. 

Jack Hannahan was a mid-season acquisition from Oakland last season and since his glove plays better at 3B, I would imagine he'd be backing up Wilson.

The signing of Chone Figgins to 4 years at $36M will make him a Mariner until his age 36 season.  Figgins is coming off of career highs in BB's and OBP and is considered one of the top defensive third basemen in the game.  Figgins doesn't provide much power but he does hit the ball fairly hard and averages +20% in terms of LD's.  He should make a good addition to the top of the order for the Mariners next season.

What the Figgins signing does for Matt Tuiasosopo place on the team since his development in the minors has seemed to run its course.  He does provide some power but his high strikeout % does predict that he will never hit for a high average.  Tuiasosopo will be 24 in March and could see some time at 1B.

In the outfield rumors have been swirling that the Mariners could be in the market for one of the big LF free agents this offseason.  On paper, Jason Bay would make a great fit.  He has the offensive numbers to hit in the middle of this order and should easily replace Adrian Beltre's offensive production next season.  Of course the M's could use little more power in this lineup but as Mariner fan and baseball contrarian Dave Cameron states in his blog taking on Bay's contract could saddle this team with a player more reminiscent of Richie Sexson and why the M's should avoid signing a player with similar skill sets to a major contract after a career season.  It's a good read and one that is quite timely since the Mariners recently had this say concerning Jason Bay.

As it stands 22 year old Michael Saunders is set to be the starter in LF. Saunders does have the capability to be a consistent 20/20 player and does posses the above average defense the Mariners would like having patrol their spacious left field area.  Saunders has shown improvement in terms of pitch selection, over the past three seasons he has made improvements in cutting down on his strikeouts while slightly increasing his BB's. If he can prove himself to be an everyday player, his left-handed power bat will be a very welcome addition to this team.

Franklin Gutierrez has become quite a find for the Mariners in that 3-way J.J. Putz deal last offseason.  Gutierrez will be 27 at the start of next season and was rated as the second best defensive player last season according to UZR/150 scores at FanGraphs.  in 2009 his career best .283 batting average did benefit from a high .334 BABIP and his 18 HR's was raised by a fluky HR/FB ratio of 11.5% (which is in line with the MLB average but take into account that Gutierrez is a RH playing at Safeco with a FB% of 35.8 and you get the sense that number should drop a bit next season) but his glove should make up for any perceived drop in offense next season making him a very piece of this team.

Bill Hall acquisition from the Brewers mid-season was seen as a very low-risk move due to the small percentage the M's would have to pay for next season's salary.  Hall hasn't played SS since 2006 but his glove still rates above average at 3B and CF.  His power and speed are all but gone so don't expect anything more than a utility glove next season.

OF prospect Greg Halman has caused a lot of buzz in this organization, but I would expect this speedy/power hitting outfielder to spend another year in the minors ironing out his high frequency of strikeouts.

Next Season's Forcast: this team did turn around rather quickly after former GM Bill Bavasi did all he could to sink the future of this franchise.  Even with the recent Chone Figgins signing this team still hasn't taken a lot of money off the books.  This team could still use a capable starter next season along with short-term option at 1B and Catcher.

I would expect the M's to pursue Russ Branyan or a player similar in his skills and price range.  Branyan may soon discover that the market for a 34 year old 1B cut down mid-season by a back injury may not be so robust after all.  If this team decides not to wait on Branyan they could look to inquire about Hank Blalock since his LH bat wouldn't be too neutralized at Safeco Park.  If Blalock decides to sign for a year he could be a bargain and provide this team with a little more power.  Another possible "one and done" could be Eric Hinske since his LH bat and versatility at 1B and LF would be valuable in terms of having above average defensive metrics. 

If the Mariners elect to keep Adam Moore at AAA for another season (or half-season) finding a veteran catcher to split time with Rob Johnson would be necessary.  Ramon Castro still has a bit of power left and his low batting average was spelled by an excessively low BABIP (.248) and his consistency to hit LD's should factor in as a value play next season.

Safeco's confines and above average defense should be enough to help attract a capable starter looking to rebound.  After the Cardinals signed Brad Penny and the Rangers just signed Rich Harden to one year deals.  They could pursue a high upside value play like Ben Sheets but if consistent innings are needed and if Ian Snell can be figured to help anchor the front of the rotation (slightly big if) then signing Jon Garland would make sense if a sensible two year contract could be signed. 

The other option I could see is calling the Reds and seeing where they stand in regards to Aaron Harang.  The team has made no secret about their desire to shed payroll and those close to the team say the Reds seem eager to move Harang without a lot of hassling.  Harang did experience an off year last season as he battled forearm trouble early on.  He has seen his slider come back down to earth over the past few seasons but his K/BB has still stayed in the 3's as his control is still as good as ever.  Harang has one more year left on his contract with a club option in 2011.  He is set to receive $12.5M next season and with a little luck (he did contend with a BABIP of .339 last season) and a very capable defense behind him, Harang could pitch like a very solid #2 next season.

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