Re-examining a Matt Kemp Trade

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This morning, a fellow Mariners blog site (rhymes with Vookout Vanding) posted an article condemning a hypothetical Matt Kemp trade. While I respect anybody’s opinion, and certainly understand the risk Kemp presents, I feel the article ignores our problem of acquiring right-handed talent in Seattle, while projecting a nearly worse-case-scenario outlook for Kemp.

The three persuasive arguments against Kemp:
1) His contract is far too expensive.
2) He is a high-injury risk.
3) His defense is bad, and his offense isn’t superstar caliber.

I’m going to re-examine these points. While I agree with all of them, there are additional elements that should be considered. These types of things aren’t simply one-dimensional. Also, the reality of difficulty that exists in bringing quality right-handed bats to Seattle must be addressed. I will add that as a fourth category.

The Expensive Contract

Excluding this year, Kemp is owed $107 million over the next five seasons. Meanwhile, Fangraph’s Oliver projections put Kemp amassing roughly 12 WAR in those five years. Since market-value is currently about $6 million per win, that puts Kemp’s contract at a value of $72 million. (And while a blogger might dispute Kemp’s future 5-year value being 12 WAR, I’m gonna go ahead and use Oliver’s projections as they seem more reputable than a kid with a laptop.) Therefore, Kemp’s contract is $35 million over market-value. This number would be reflected in any deal.

High-Injury Risk

There’s no doubt that Kemp’s injury history is concerning. And while there’s not a single player in the game who doesn’t have injury risk, we simply can’t expect Kemp to be healthy for a full five years. Further, Kemp will never be the five-tool player he became famous for. But that doesn’t mean he’s lost all value as a ballplayer. He can still contribute, as he’s offensively proven this year in LA.

Also of note: As Mariners fans watch Corey Hart’s struggles to return from an injury-induced year off, we see the perfect example of how intricate a hitter’s timing is. Hart still hasn’t found it. Yet in Kemp’s return, his offensive production is above average. He’s not the All-Star hitter he once was, but his 2014 performance does suggest that Kemp’s coordination, eye, and instinct hasn’t deteriorated in his lengthy absence from everyday playing.

Defense

It’s pretty hard to make a counter-argument against Kemp’s poor defensive showing. But then, right-handed power hitting outfielders with good defense metrics don’t exactly grow on trees. One would hope that Kemp could offer a serviceable right-field, which doesn’t seem impossible. There’s always the DH slot that can be utilized, with smart management using platoons and match-ups appropriately. Mind you, our current RF righty options are Hart and Stefen Romero. We have no stellar outfield prospects coming up anytime soon, and the free agent market this offseason is light. So yes, Kemp is not perfectly ideal, but as they say in politics: “Don’t compare someone to the almighty, compare them to the alternative”.

But Seriously, Who Else?

The objective is to find a good, offensive, right-handed outfielder. But a big problem lies within getting a truly good player of this kind to come to Seattle. This is a pitcher’s park. If you’re a good righty bat, you have little desire to play half your games in Safeco. If we do find such a bat in free agency, we will certainly overpay to entice them here. And that’s assuming such bats even become available. In an era with pitching as the dominant force, hitters become even more valuable as assets. Teams are far less inclined to let these players walk away to free agency. Currently, players like Josh Willingham and Marlon Byrd are touted as better options than Kemp for the Mariners. While their contracts (or future contracts) are less pricey than Kemp’s, both of these players are over 35 years old. They have injury concerns themselves (what 35 year old doesn’t?). And their power cannot be assumed to last into their late-30’s.

Now, for the Mariners, the lack of offense in our outfield has no ideal short-term answer. Even our celebrated 2014 Michael Saunders should be put in context— he’s never really been that good at the dish, besides this nice current campaign, which is only 219 plate appearances… Looking out at available options, Matt Kemp is yet a risky and costly answer in a limited pool of risky and costly answers. The real question is: Will Matt Kemp give us more production than Dustin Ackley or James Jones or Endy Chavez? I’d think so.

Lastly, the argument that we should overpay for someone other than Kemp doesn’t really work. Because, who exactly are we getting? If there’s a better answer, then sure! Sign me up! It’s just that one hasn’t presented itself. If Jack Z is sitting at a table with an option for Kemp or for a better player with less risk, by all means, go for option B. But to rule out Kemp for being expensive and risky, while all other options are seemingly expensive and risky, well, that’s just a lousy argument.

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Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

The Economics of Team Mariners

Kevin-Mather

“Obviously, we’d love to win the World Series, but let’s start with making the playoffs. Let’s start with competitive games in September. We’ve come a long way in the last five years. We’re not going to do something silly for a one-game playoff in October, or even a best-of-five. We intend to win for the next six to 10 years.”

This insightful quote came yesterday from Mariners President Kevin Mather (courtesy of Jon Paul Morosi’s informative piece). Mather alluded to an expanding “flexibility” of the Mariner’s payroll, suggesting the front-office’s strategy moving forward.

The idea seems clear. The Mariners have rebuilt, and now own one of the better farms in baseball. Any appetite to dismantle their stock of talent is disingenuous, as illustrated in the quote above. Instead, the team seems more comfortable targeting free agents to fix their “holes”. Thanks to a roster full of inexpensive young players, this is possible.

Of course, having the organization’s President & CFO express payroll “flexibility” is a welcoming development. We really haven’t heard this from them in years. Obviously, the team’s recent success has signaled to ownership that it’s now time to step it up. By increasing capital injections into a sustainable ball club, it acknowledges that to advance this team—without leveraging the future by trading away key prospects— Jack Zduriencik could use another weapon at his disposal.

And wow, the current market for hitters appears quite suffocating. It’s pure supply-and-demand economics— the shortage of available impact-bats has inflated the demand to painful levels. As Mather says in the article: “There’s not a lot of bats out there. And some of the clubs, it’s like they think they’re trading Babe Ruth.” No wonder the Mariners happily picked up Kendrys Morales’s contract. All it cost was money? Yes please. Thank you.

While this approach seems more applicable to the coming hot stove season, it could influence the M’s approaching trade deadline. A few potential deals exist which feature cash-heavy burdens (and therefore smaller prospect demands). Names like Bartolo Colon and Matt Kemp come to mind—players who’s expensive contracts repel other potential suitors. Marlon Byrd perhaps gets another look, although his vest-my-2016-option shakedown probably flat-out infuriated Seattle. If more deadline moves do happen, I envision Team Mariners holding their noses and taking less-than-stellar deals, only because they don’t want to merely forfeit the season. Best case scenario, any moves are mostly a matter of wasted money. Worse case scenario, we’ve dealt high-value prospects.

Thankfully, Kevin Mather’s comments indicate the front-office values their farm as an economic necessity. If you need a real-world example of this, consider Cano’s salary, which is currently 44 times more expensive than Kyle Seager’s. As we can see, getting the full value of team-control years is the best bargain in baseball.

(For the math-geek: If an all-replacement-level team is 48 wins per year, a real team needs roughly 40 WAR to be competitive. Market-price per win is currently around $6 million. Which means a contender that doesn’t make use of team-control salaries will likely have a $240 million payroll. Which non-ironically is very close to the Yankees 2014 payroll. While the Mariners have a moderate payroll around $100-$120 million, the more cost-control talent they employ equals the more money they can spend for free agents.)

Let’s hope this new Mariners model is one they stick with. So far, it’s already done pretty well.

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Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

Welcome Back, Kendrys Morales

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As the 2014 season began, Mariners commentary routinely pointed to the “logjam” at 1B/DH. Acquiring Nelson Cruz or Kendrys Morales was not smart, they said— we already have Corey Hart, Justin Smoak, Logan Morrison, and a fat Jesus Montero in Tacoma.

Now at the trade deadline, the Mariners have acquired Morales. It’s a comical affair, knowing Kendrys’ efforts to play anywhere but Seattle. But he will be welcomed back, because we need offense. And we’re willing to try anything.

While Morales has been rusty— predictable when you don’t play for months— it remains to be seen if he can shake that rust off. He hasn’t yet done so in his stint in Minnesota, yet his past two weeks have been productive.

However, a player’s value to a team matters only in comparison to what he replaces. At this point, Corey Hart has expired his grace period. Hart’s struggles are obvious, and in the rare chance he gets on base, he’s quickly subbed for a pinch-runner. Meanwhile, Justin Smoak has been demoted to Tacoma again, and his future in Seattle is certainly done. (Next year, his $3.6 million option will no doubt be bought-out for a measly $150k.) LoMo, who had a hot stretch in June, has since cooled off. Regardless, the Mariners appear to value Morrison the most of the three, and he likely isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

The concern about Morales’ 2014 production is more than valid, yet this move still seems like a no-brainer. Morales is no worse than the current options. His cost was nothing but money and a low-value AAA relief pitcher Stephen Pryor. If Morales does heat up, which is very possible, and he contributes some much-needed run support to a limping Seattle offense, than money well spent.

Hopefully this move is part of a bigger attempt to increase late-season run production. Reports of new faces being called-up from AAA-Tacoma are coming in. As the Mariners are in a tough spot vying for available upgrades, replacing poorly producing players with young unproven rookies and Kendrys Morales-type players is at least an effort.

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Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

The Seattle Mariners’ 5 Year Plan

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All across the Mariners blogosphere, you hear “we need David Price because our time is now!”. This doesn’t make much sense. Almost every key player on the Mariners roster is locked up for years to come. In fact, with the exception of Kuma and a few other pieces, every other player— with a WAR of any significance— has at least three years before free agency.

Yes, we have a good team this year. And next year. And the next year. And the next year.

Seriously, this team is no temporary fluke. This team is trending upwards, not down.

Let’s look at the key Mariners contributors, including 2014 WAR thus far, and the year they hit free agency.

Pitching:
Felix Hernandez, 4.9, 2020
Hisashi Iwakuma, 2.3, 2016
Chris Young, 2.3, 2015
Tom Wilhelmsen, 1.0, 2018
Dominic Leone, 0.9, 2020
Yoervis Medina, 0.8, 2019
Danny Farquhar, 0.8, 2020
Fernando Rodney, 0.9, 2016
Plus: James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, Roenis Elias, Brandon Maurer all with at least 5 years of team control.

Batting:
Robinson Cano, 3.6, 2024
Kyle Seager, 4.1, 2018
Michael Saunders, 2.0, 2017
Brad Miller, 0.7, 2020
Mike Zunino, 0.6, 2020
James Jones, 0.5, 2020
Plus: D.J. Peterson with 6 years of team control, starting soon (please!).

Obviously, the Mariners will be negotiating extensions with Iwakuma, Seager, and Saunders when the time is right. Further, none of these guys appear to have strong desires to play outside of Seattle— especially as the team is now winning— nor do they have a strong financial incentive to see free agency (so long as the extensions are respectful).

This means that the Mariners have finally built a sustainable winning ball team. The team you’re watching and loving is not some fleeting entity. Quite the opposite. This team has staying power, and a solid foundation to build from. (And yes, they need a few more bats!) When you hear commentators talk about a team’s “window to win”, it usually applies to teams with star players who won’t be around much longer. The Mariners are not that team.

Of course, Felix and Cano won’t be this good forever. That’s why we’re talking about a 5-year plan. The Mariners want to make the most of our superstars’ skills and salaries. With a supporting cast of young team-controlled talent, you’re looking at a steady half-decade window to chase pennants. Any asset listed above ought not to be traded, unless the return further benefits the 5-year plan.

This applies, generally speaking, to a Starling Marte or a discounted Matt Kemp, but not for a David Price.

So excited as we are, no need to hold your breath. This moment isn’t merely passing by.

Now, watch this video of D.J. Peterson and imagine 2016.

 

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Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

“Lead Us Not Into Temptation”— 3 Reasons the Mariners Need to Pass on David Price

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Mariners fans have been anticipating a trade since the Robinson Cano signing. And now that the M’s are performing at a 5% better winning clip than they were projected, the fever is burning. Seattle baseball fans— forgive them— have had a losing team for so long that they’re outright giddy at the word “post-season”. And they should. This is cool. The Mariners are starting to look pretty darn good.

Yet when the discussion turns to David Price, I don’t become excited. I become worried. It’s not that Price isn’t excellent, it’s not that Price wouldn’t help. It’s about the future of this team, the reality of their current standing, and an aversion to “all-or-nothing” moves.

1) The Cost

David Price not only costs a lot of money—$20 million next year— he will also cost a handful of top prospects. The Rays have been widely reported to want more than the Cubs’ got for their ace Jeff Sarmadzija. And the Cubs, you’ll remember, got Oakland’s two top prospects plus other pieces. We needn’t speculate much further than the notion of the Mariners giving up Taijuan Walker and D.J. Peterson: Two exciting faces that could represent the future of this team.

That is a steep price. Come 2016, when David Price has signed with New York for $168 million, we’ll be left with a team gutted of it’s key prospects. True, maybe those prospects fail like Dustin Ackley or Justin Smoak. But then maybe we’ve traded away our next Felix Hernandez and Kyle Seager.

2) You Simply Cannot Ignore This Offense

Sure, you can never have too much pitching. But you can have too little hitting. Acquiring David Price could be the most lopsided strategy seen in baseball in years. Could it work? I don’t know, and neither do you. But we have now seen 15 games this season when the Mariners lost despite allowing 3 runs or fewer.

The answer can’t be to buy the most expensive pitching to over-compensate for poor hitting. You need to balance to an acceptable degree. That doesn’t mean our hitting quality must equal our pitching quality, but you do need a serviceable lineup. While our current pitching staff (not including Price) could take us to the World Series, our hitters simply could not.

Ignoring our hitting issues while dreaming of grandeur is concerning. It’s like a marathon runner going out to buy himself the best shoes and the best running pants and even the best power-energy bars, all while having a sprained ankle. Okay, that’s a bad metaphor. But the point remains— Strong pitching cannot simply carry limping hitting to the World Series.

3) The Theory of Going “All-In”

I actually love this poker metaphor. And if you know anything about poker, you know that this move works on two occasions: You either have the best hand, or you try to bluff your opponent.

Now, there’s no bluffing in baseball. So going “all-in” is only a strategy when you have the best hand. Oakland recently went “all-in”, and well, they have the best hand in baseball right now. We don’t. We have the 3rd best hand in a 5 hand division. (Imagine playing poker when you can see all of your opponents hands. That’s baseball.)

True, we could be in first place in the NL East, but we’re not in the NL East. We have to beat both the Angels and the Athletics, and probably the Tigers to get to the World Series. And maybe in your opinion, simply getting to play in a division-title series is worth gutting the farm for. But I am convinced that the time is not right for this type of move. Perhaps next year at the deadline will be different. And maybe then trading the farm for an ace rental makes sense. But for now, this team isn’t ready to go “all-in”. We will lose that bet.

Of course, internet-trade-theorizing is supposed to be for fun. We all have different opinions, and that’s wonderful. I don’t pretend to think my analysis is the ultimate truth, or that somebody else’s desire to trade the farm for David Price is dumb. Price is an excellent pitcher. Who doesn’t want an excellent pitcher? What I am trying to offer is a point of view that favors a long-term outlook. There are organizations like the Cardinals who have put together consistent good-playing teams whom each year have a shot at the pennant. We can do that. Our organization has rebuilt, and we are now a respectable, sustainable club that has a long-term quality outlook. To me, that is far more important than one or two years of weak pennant races, followed by 6 years of sub-.500 baseball.

Fellow fans, I beg you to enjoy the team that we have. Watch them grow. Re-imagine the Mariners as a sustainable ball club.

David Price is not for us, not now.

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Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

Mariners, Rays Could Be Eyeing Three Team Trade

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The speculation is killing me. It’s well reported that the Mariners would like to acquire David Price and/or Ben Zobrist from the Rays. The teams have been discussing Seattle’s top prospect Taijuan Walker for some time now.

But it seems that the Rays are interested in acquiring a top name hitting prospect for Price, something the Mariners do not currently have. If Seattle still wants Price without a drastic overpay, a third team seems necessary. As Buster Olney reports, the Cubs could be a good fit.

This seems like a perfect match for all three teams. However, it was reported that the Rays already turned down Addison Russell for Price, before the Athletics ultimately moved him on to the Cubs. If the Rays don’t want Russell, it could shut the whole (speculative) operation down.

However, a deal here could still be possible:

  • When originally offered Russell for Price, the Rays may not have thrown in the towel on their season (they still haven’t). A second opportunity at Russell would surely be hard for the Rays to pass on.
  • The Rays could be interested in other Cubs prospects, such as Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, or Albert Almora.

The Mariners are also still interested in Ben Zobrist, and Nick Franklin remains a center piece in the discussions. Tampa Bay has also been searching for catcher for quite some time, and are likely interested in Tyler Marlette.

A potential deal could look like:

Mariners receive

  • David Price
  • Ben Zobrist

Cubs receive

  • Taijuan Walker

Rays receive

  • Addison Russell
  • Nick Franklin
  • Tyler Marlette

There would likely be other players (specifically from the Mariners) involved in this trade, but this is a solid foundation for a three team deal. Again, this is all very speculative, but it’s not implausible.

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Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

Mariners Trade Discussions Heating Up

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As the All-Star break comes to a close, and the trade deadline becomes more prominent, the Seattle Mariners find themselves in the middle of every major rumor.

Josh Willingham:

It seems that talks between the Mariners and Twins over Willingham have slowed to a halt.

 

Marlon Byrd:

The talks between the Phillies, the Mariners, and Marlon Byrd have folded, and a deal now seems highly unlikely. The biggest reason for this was Byrd’s demand to have his 2016 vesting option guaranteed before he agreed to waive his no-trade clause.

The Phillies’ outfielder would be owed $8 million in 2016, a price Seattle likely would not want to pay for a 39-year-old outfielder. Byrd would help Seattle in the short term, but with names like Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes set to hit free agency before the 2016 season, tying up a large sum of money is not in their best interest.

Billy Butler:

The Mariners’ desperation to add a bat has found them discussing the Kansas City designated hitter. This would have been intriguing last year, but Butler has struggled in 2014, looking more like a speed-less version of James Jones than the fear inducing power bat Seattle needs.

In 2014, Butler has hit just .273/.325/.355 with three home runs and a wRC+ of 87. His WAR sits at a dismal -0.8, as his defensive limitations have done nothing to improve his value.

That being said, Butler has been better of late, hitting .318/.363/.422 since May 28. In fact Steamer projects Butler to hit .287/.359/.440 with six home runs the rest of the season, including a .349 wOBA and a 121 wRC+. ZIPs also has a favorable projection for Butler in the remainder of 2014, though slightly more conservative. While this could just be a hot streak by Butler, he has been good in his career a lot more than he has been bad.

Butler is also affordable monetarily, only owed $3 million for the remainder of 2014. He has a team option for $12.5 million in 2015, though he likely will end up a free agent, and teams should be able to sign him for much less. However, this is where a Butler trade starts to make less sense for Seattle. While Butler is available at a nominal cost to the Mariners’ resources, they’ll be able to sign him in the offseason without having to give up any players. Still, that would not help Seattle this season, and the likelihood of Butler choosing to sign in Seattle is slim to none.

Ben Zobrist:

Seattle’s talks with the Rays about Ben Zobrist seem to progressing rapidly over the last week.

Likely, the Rays asked for a lot more than Seattle was willing to give. Tampa Bay still believes they can compete, and won’t move Zobrist unless they are blown away. This could change as the trade deadline gets closer, and the Rays fall further in the standings.

The asking price could also increase, as many teams are interested in Zobrists’ monetary cost and positional flexibility. A bidding war could ensue. The Mariners aren’t the only ones who make sense for Zobrist.

Here’s what Bob Dutton had to say about Zobrist:

They like him, he’s available, affordable and would be a nice fit. But that’s true for a lot of teams. There might not be a player who draws more interest over the next few week. That means the price will probably be pretty stiff.

David Price:

In addition to Ben Zobrist, the Mariners and Rays are in serious talks over lefty David Price.

Apparently, Seattle is looking to find a package that could return both All-Stars. A package would have to include Taijuan Walker, along with Nick Franklin and D.J. Peterson or James Paxton, among others.

Neither Price nor Zobrist is under club control long term, so this deal would be a serious win now move.

These talks have been going on since Spring Training, so this is not a new development. Jack Zduriencik will have to weigh his options between winning now and saving for later. If the cost is truly as high reported however, it may be wise for Seattle to look elsewhere for upgrades.

Remaining questions:

The Mariners announced the recall of outfielder Stefen Romero on Thursday, electing to send Lucas Luetge to Tacoma. This shows Seattle is still unwilling to hand over a starting job to Ty Kelly, and still have gaping holes in the corner outfield.

Seattle also pushed Taijuan Walker’s next Tacoma start back to Friday, eliminating him from rejoining the team as the fifth starter. The Mariners will need to find someone to pitch next Tuesday. Erasmo Ramirez could be that someone, if he is not dealt by then.

Only 38 spots are filled on the 40-man roster. One is likely reserved for injured pitcher James Paxton (who is pitching for Everett as I’m writing this), but the other is still a mystery.

More news is sure to come in the next day or so, and I’ll try to provide constant updates as information becomes available.

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Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

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