The Emerging Mariners Front Office Philosophy

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The Padres caused a stir this off-season, trading handfuls of prospects to acquire Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, and Justin Upton. It’s a spectacle for Mariners fans, watching these right-handed power-hitting outfielders go elsewhere.

There’s also the Melky Cabrera incident. Mariners fans are puzzled, wondering why we didn’t beat the White Sox’s offer?

But did we even offer Melky a contract? Says M’s President Kevin Mather:

We had conversations with his agent. We had conversations with Melky. Part of our issue is, we’ve just come out of this long losing cycle where we got old and then we tried to stay competitive while rebuilding. We don’t want to do that again. We’ve got young players coming and a minor league system that we think is pretty good. And how many guys are you going to buy a position for four years or five years. Philosophically, we want to fill where the need is, but philosophically keep rolling through our young talent and making sure we keep acquiring young talent.”

This is important. As our team is now “rebuilt”, we’re witnessing an emerging philosophy that prioritizes homegrown talent. (It’s the team model used by the current St. Louis Cardinals, among others.) To see the Mariners taking this approach is admittedly surprising and very encouraging.

For Seattle, this emerging philosophy has a backstory…


Jack Zduriencik

Jack Zduriencik is, at heart, a scout. He climbed the ladder through the Mets and Pirates organizations as a scout, eventually landing in Milwaukee as the Director of Scouting. In a decade of work for the Brewers, his accomplishments were simply outstanding. His list of draftees include Fielder, Braun, Brantley, Lucroy, Lawrie, Weeks, and plenty of other quality names.

When recruited to Seattle, his profile fit the ideal GM-candidate for a rebuild.


 The “Bavasi” Mariners

In the aftermath of the 2008 season— when Zduriencik arrived in Seattle— his new organization looked like a war-ravaged wasteland. The Mariners had lost 101 games that year, while running up the largest payroll we’ve ever seen. The farm system was all but depleted, capped off earlier when Bavasi traded away first-round draft pick Adam Jones.

Rebuilding required a start from the ground up. It was going to be long and ugly and exhausting.

Zduriencik started his rebuild in 2009 by drafting top picks Dustin Ackley, Nick Franklin, and Kyle Seager. The following year he drafted Taijuan Walker and James Paxton. 2011 was Danny Hultzen and Brad Miller; 2012 saw Mike Zunino, Chris Taylor, and Patrick Kivlehan.

But while his young talent began filling minor league rosters, he still had to field a major league team. And doing so on a limited payroll. What could you expect?

Minus one particular game on August 15, 2012, the first five years of Zduriencik’s process were thoroughly brutal.


Out With the Old, In With the New

2014 was the year it all changed. A look across the diamond saw faces mostly drafted by Zduriencik. With the addition of free agent superstar Robinson Cano, the Mariners finally had a core of truly talented, young and exciting ballplayers.

A look towards 2015’s roster, and Felix Hernandez stands to be the only Mariner not acquired by Jack Zduriencik. Thus, this team is now his. Completely.


So, with the rebuilt team, what now?

Now that the Mariners are winning, fans and pundits are out professing trades that the Mariners should make. (I’m guilty myself.) The conventional wisdom is “Felix and Cano are only getting older. We Have to Win Now!”

And while rentals like Justin Upton are getting moved for prospect packages, Seattle remains adamant to avoid the high-stakes bidding.

It’s the smart move. Because of this. Courtesy of FanGraphs:

FullSizeRender (click to enlarge)

As of right now, the Mariners are projected to be baseball’s second-best team in 2015. And why is that? Because of trades? Hell no. It’s thanks to our core of highly talented young athletes, drafted and developed by the Seattle Mariners. Sure, Cano and Cruz are impact free agent acquisitions. But all other substantial talent is homegrown, mostly, and largely responsible for our increasing success.

Here is a layout of current MLB team’s rosters, courtesy of RosterResource:

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(click to enlarge)

In my thinking, you can breakdown team operating philosophies into three models:

  • The Yankees Model
  • The Billy Beane Model
  • The Cardinals Model

The” Yankees Model” is the typical large market spend-big-on-free-agents strategy. In addition to paying players for mostly post-prime years, it also strips farm systems by forfeiting draft picks (thanks to the new ‘qualifying offer’ rules). It’s an unsustainable model, and fun to mock.

The “Billy Beane Model” is terrain of small payroll teams. To stay competitive, they target undervalued players, trade away good players when they’re at peak value, and generally operate in a constant state of transaction. This model has proved mostly sustainable, albeit infuriating to fans of such teams.

The “Cardinals Model” focuses on the strong homegrown farm system. Drafting and developing players as the backbone of the team. Consider, in the 2013 World Series, 19 of the Cardinals’ 25-man roster were homegrown players. Incredible. This model is sustainable (if you draft and develop well) and is also thoroughly enjoyable for hometown fans.

So now, as the Seattle Mariners have largely rebuilt on the merits of their drafting and developing, it makes perfect sense that they start employing the “Cardinals Model” going forward. While it is true that many prospects don’t become stars, it’s also true that every star was once a prospect. Keeping a farm system stocked with young talent is the likeliest way to ensure a team can produce a plethora of homegrown talent. And even a few stars.

For us fans, we should probably stop desiring our team to trade trade trade. We need to let our past frustrations give way to the new reality of the Seattle Mariners. Which is a team rebuilt by a scouting-minded GM and his crew. The first phase is complete, and now comes the second phase, where they transition into a philosophy that focuses completely on sustainability.

Pinch yourself. This actually isn’t a dream.

 

 

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Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

 

 


PANIC!!! No Melky, No Rios… We’re DOOMED!!!

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In the past 24 hours, free agent targets Melky Cabrera and Alex Rios have signed with other ballclubs. While each player might’ve significantly helped the Mariners—or not—it’s hard to get upset about the news.

Cabrera never struck me as an ideal candidate. Perhaps he was the superior choice in a handful of limited choices. But with Melky’s questionable defense/PED history/injury history, is he really someone you want to lock up for 3-4 years?

Rios was a questionable candidate as well. The attractive aspect is that Rios comes on a one-year deal. But last year, Rios was worth a mere 0.6 WAR in 521 plate appearances. For comparison, Endy Chavez was worth 0.4 WAR in 258 plate appearances.

While I wouldn’t have complained about the Mariners signing either player, I do feel that missing out on both is probably the best thing.

Come November 2015, we’ll certainly appreciate not having Melky Cabrera’s contract on our books. Seattle will have funds to bid on some great free agents, including Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Alex GordonDexter Fowler and others.

Of course, Jack Z still needs a plan for right field. The Michael Saunders trade looks shortsighted at the moment. And yet Spring Training is 2.5 months away, so we’ll wait and see what happens.

But please, let’s not lose sleep over Melky Cabrera and Alex Rios. Both were questionable options with potential upside and certain risk. We’re far from doomed. In fact, we’re still a very good ball team.

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Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

Mariner Meeting Madness

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Contrary to the title, the Mariner’s first two days of the Winter Meetings have been pretty bland. They seemed to have shot down all of the rumors they were involved in, and have done nothing so far. After recently acquiring both Nelson Cruz and J.A. Happ, Jack Zduriencik is still looking to improve on his team, specifically offensively. So don’t fret, moves are still to come.

The player the Mariners have been linked most heavily to Melky Cabrera. In 139 games for the Blue Jays last season, Cabrera hit .301/.351/.458, with 125 wRC+, 16 home runs, and a WAR of 2.6. This kind of production makes Melky the last big bat on the market. He and the Mariners seem like a match made in heaven, and most experts agree.

Cabrera is a decent right fielder, nothing special, but he can hold his own, and is a lot better than someone like Raul Ibanez or Michael Morse. His ability to switch hit is extremely attractive to a Mariner team that is still lefty dominate, even with the addition of Cruz. He’s also a prototypical two-hole hitter, sadly ending the fun “Stefen Romero: Top of the Order Hitter” experiment. The guy hitting behind him, Robinson Cano, also hit behind him in New York, back in their Yankee days. The friendship between the pair could be enough to attract Cabrera to Seattle (just another tool in the vast arsenal of Robinso Cano).

And as great of a fit that Melky and Seattle are for each other, perhaps the deciding factor will be the lack of other options on both sides. The Royals, Giants, White Sox, and Blue Jays all seem to be interested in Cabrera as well. However, the Royals don’t really need Cabrera, and likely wouldn’t top a Seattle offer. The White Sox don’t seem to have the same spending power, and the Blue Jays just filled their right field need with Michael Saunders (sneaky sneaky Jack Z). The only other real other contender seems to be the Giants, who may be spending their allotted free agent money on Jon Lester. A deal is expected any minute now, and will likely be the first domino to fall in this year’s Winter Meetings.

As for the Mariners, the options may be quite limited as well. Their are other guys they like, but none with the favorable risk/reward ratio of Melky. Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes were names thrown around last week, but have not appeared since. Alex Rios is another guy the team may be targeting in free agency, but after coming off the worst season of his career, he is probably a safety option if nothing else happens. The only other real big name thrown around is Matt Kemp, but all the teams reportedly interested have all backed off, as the Dodgers seem to be asking for too much. If the Dodgers lower their asking price (from Taijuan Walker or James Paxton), Seattle will resume talks. Until then, the only team who could end up with Kemp is San Diego.

For right now, it’s been a pretty boring Winter Meetings. Not much is going to happen prior to the Lester signing. It should speed up in the days that follow, and hopefully Jack Zduriencik returns home from San Diego with a shiny new toy.

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Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

Mariners Land Their BIG BOPPER

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Brace yourself, the Mariners’ offseason moves are now falling like a line of dominoes. Expect a big transaction for a right fielder any minute now. My bet is still Matt Kemp, but we’ll see.

What we know for sure is that Nelson Cruz is a Mariner. And after a few days of reflection, I’ve come to appreciate this signing. This week, a couple bloggers pointed to an article written by Tony Blengino (former Mariners/Zduriencik special assistant) discussing the Safeco Effect on right handed sluggers.

Basically, due to the dimensions of our ballpark, and the often dense cool humid air which some term the “marine layer”, baseballs just don’t fly over the left field fence easily. Blengino offered some information that the Mariners front office had compiled, coming to this conclusion:

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What this means is, to beat the Safeco Effect on righty power hitters, the Mariners needed to find a cleanup hitter who absolutely crushes baseballs.

Using this threshold of 100mph of “Speed Off Bat” velocity, I thought it’d be interesting to look at a handful of players and see what their average home run “speed off bat” velocity was in 2014:

Michael Saunders—100.6
Dustin Ackley—99.4
Mike Zunino—103.5
Andrew McCutchen—103.7
Mike Trout—104.6
Carlos Gomez—104.7
Justin Upton –105.5
Evan Gattis—104.5
Ian Desmond—106.5
Ryan Braun—101.9
Matt Kemp— 102
Kyle Seager—102
Robinson Cano—101.2
Yoenis Cespedes—101.7
Yasiel Puig—104.6
Nelson Cruz—104.7
Brad Miller—105.3
George Springer—105.4
Giancarlo Stanton—107.7

 

A few things to remember here… First, these are actual home runs. We’re not looking at flyballs that were caught on the warning track. Second, hitting the ball very hard doesn’t just equal a dinger. Trajectory is very important too. And when we look at Brad Miller and his impressive pop, we must remember when a hitter is striking out a lot and making bad contact a bunch, his pop doesn’t really matter if he can’t use it. (He only hit 10 homers last year.)

Looking at the big names listed, it’s clear which class of hitters destroy baseballs. Nelson Cruz is in fine company with Trout, Gomez, Puig. And if you never noticed, Mike Zunino hits the ball very hard, which is why he hasn’t much struggled at Safeco with the dingers.

For the rest of the possible Mariners trade targets, this list reaffirms my suspicion to all things Yoenis Cespedes. Upton and Gattis look like they could handle Safeco, while Matt Kemp might make you a bit nervous. However, Kemp did hit 10 of his 25 homers this year to the opposite field—a very fine trait for Safeco righties—and when you overlay his 2014 homeruns with Safeco, every single one would’ve cleared the fences. (However, this doesn’t account for the “marine layer” effect.)

I understand this analysis is far from perfect. But I found it interesting and wanted to share, for whatever it’s worth.

As far as Nelson Cruz is concerned, his raw power appears to have been a fine choice for cleanup duties. One thing is for sure, it should be rare for a pitcher to intentionally walk Robbie Cano with such a power threat in the on-deck circle. Considering Cano was intentionally walked 20 times last year—in high leverage situations—there’s reason to believe that the “protection theory” will be witnessed this year.

Because who knows? Maybe if in 10 of those 20 scenarios, Cano would’ve been pitched to. And in 3 cases, what if he’d have gotten a hit and drove in some runs? Thus leading to a won ballgame…

All we needed was one more win last year.

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Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

A More Positive Way to View the Michael Saunders Trade

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The Mariners traded Michael Saunders to the Blue Jays for J.A. Happ today, and Mariner fans everywhere lost their freakin minds. I’m here to tell you that this trade is in fact NOT the end of the world.

First of all, let’s put our biases out of the way right now. Michael Saunders is not a great baseball player. He’s a streaky hitter who can’t play center field and is frequently hurt. Saunders is extremely replaceable.

If we assume that Jack Zduriencik’s plan was to acquire another outfielder all along (which reports say could happen any minute now), then Saunders would have been the odd man out. He’d be riding the bench as a fourth outfielder, a complete waste of a roster spot. I like Saunders, don’t get me wrong, but he is very replaceable.

Happ isn’t good. There’s no way around that. But Safeco is a magical place! It made Chris Young into something, it can do the same for J.A. Happ. This gives the Mariners more flexibility pitching wise, something they desperately need.

And no, this isn’t an excuse for Zduriencik to trade Walker or Paxton. This is a means of acquiring a backup plan in case either them is hurt or not ready to start the season in the rotation (Elias included). The front office failed to add pitching last year, relying on best case scenarios, and ended up scrambling to fill two rotation spots before the season began.

But in general, we should really give the front office more credit. They aren’t a bunch of morons sitting in the meeting room, throwing darts at names on a board, trading whoever they hit to the first team that will take them. They aren’t idiots. This was a well thought out, non-whimsical trade by Seattle. There is a purpose behind it, whether you may agree with it or not. And in end, this deal  won’t have a big impact on the Mariners in 2015, positive or negative.

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Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

The Mariners Sign Nelson Cruz… Yay?

Nelson-Cruz3

As you probably know by now, the Seattle Mariners and slugger Nelson Cruz agreed to a four-year, $57 million contract today.

Many fans have rejoiced, and they should. This is exciting news! The Mariners did something! Halle-freakin-lujah! The Seattle front office has been searching for a power hitting, middle-of-the-order, right-handed bat for as long as I can remember. Cruz’s lineup presence makes a huge impact on the Mariners’ offense, and fills a gaping hole at DH.

Cruz signed a one-year contract with Baltimore last year and mashed his way to the home run title. He hit .271/.333/.525 with 40 home runs, 108 RBI, and a WAR of 3.9. His stellar season frustrated many Mariner fans, as it’s widely known that Cruz had been ready to sign with Seattle, before the front office nixed the deal.

The nixing of the deal actually seemed to be the right move at the time. Cruz had been coming off a year mixed with injuries and PED accusations. Combine that with the skepticism of his ability to hit outside of Arlington, the “no sign” seemed like a smart thing do.

Obviously, everything looks different in hindsight. The year he had last year seemed to end those concerns for most people. He stayed healthy, did not get suspended, and crushed the ball in a new ball park.

However, did he do enough to warrant a four-year, $57 million contract? For a 34-year-old designated hitter, the obvious answer is no. A better question is: “Was it necessary?” And to that I say yes.

The Cruz signing, while certainly expensive for an aging player, was probably a best case scenario for the Mariners. When looking at the free agent market, there was really no better option. Cruz fits all of needs the Mariners have currently. He’s a power hitting, right-handed, designated hitter, who they can throw in between Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager in the batting order.

And the best part is, they didn’t have to give up any players to get him. I myself have never had $57 million, so maybe I’m not a good judge here, but I believe paying busted players is better than watching your prospects turn into MVP’s for other teams.

Also, while it’s absurd to think Nelson Cruz will ever live up to his salary on the fourth year of his contract, the money honestly isn’t that crazy compared to the salaries other teams give their players. When looking at 2015 salary, I did some simple math to find dollars per win (WAR). Assuming Cruz’s salary averages out to $14.5 million per year, he will be making $3.7 million per win. For comparison:

If you looked closely, Justin Upton, someone who the Mariners have been heavily linked to this offseason, has exactly the same contract and WAR as Nelson Cruz. Sure, Upton is younger and can play the outfield (and those are very valid points), but Seattle was able to snag the exact same dollars/win without having to give up Taijuan Walker and company. Other notables are recent Red Sox acquisitions Victor Martinez and Hanley Ramirez. Martinez was acquired at right around the same dollars/win as Cruz, and Ramirez was acquired for a whopping $2.1 million more per win.

Nelson Cruz is expensive. Very expensive. It is nearly impossible that he will live up to the $14.5 million Seattle will pay him in 2018. But Cruz can make a serious impact on the Mariner’s lineup in 2015, and they only had to give up cash to get him.

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Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

I’m Back

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These past two months have been quite stressful for me. Maintaining my grades, applying for college, studying for the SAT, etc. But this morning, I officially accepted my admission offer at Washington State University. Go Cougs!

Anyways, I’m finally ready to begin writing again, something I’ve been excited to do for a while now. It seems especially fitting, given all of the trade rumors flying around, that I start back up today.

There’s so much going on right now. Oakland just made a trade, Kyle Seager has a shiny new contract, the Mariners look set to make a big move, and the Winter Meetings are right around the corner.

Thank you Justin for holding down the fort, and hopefully we can make this blog great!

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Keep up with us on Twitter: @Seatown_Mariner

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