Mariners Add John Buck, DFA Peguero

The M’s added backup catcher John Buck.

And that is my level of excitement. Backup-catcher level excitement.

Buck has performed his whole career, all ten years, exactly like a backup catcher would perform. He’s posted one year where his WAR was over 2.0, and that was back in 2010.

I’m glad this move happened. It’s just one less thing the M’s have to worry about heading into the season. Buck’ll help mentor Zunino until he’s ready to take on full time catching duties in 2015.

Hopefully this year Mike Zunino can avoid breaking his hand while he’s swinging and can stay off of the DL for the whole year.

The M’s DFA’s Carlos Peguero, a typical AAAA player who dominates Triple A but can’t translate it into the Major Leagues. Not the end of the world.

Anyway, the Mariners made another move. And that’s something to be glad about.

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Tanaka To Be Posted

Masahiro Tanaka, the Japanese pitching phenom, is going to be posted by his Japanese baseball club the Rakuten Golden Eagles.

All clubs that plan to bid for him will post the maximum $20 million pay-to-play fee, and only the team that ends up signing him will end up paying the posting fee to the Rakuten Golden Eagles.

According to Jim Bowden, the Yankees are the number one contender to get Tanaka. That is no surprise considering the Yanks’ pitching sucks and they are sitting on a steaming pile of cash just waiting to be wasted  spent.

He also cites the Angles, Rangers, Dodgers, and Braves as teams that will be in on the bidding war.

I can’t say that I fully expect any of these teams to really compete with the Yankees to sign Tanaka. The Bombers need him the most, have the biggest pockets, and are out for vengeance as missing the playoffs is a very rare occurrence for them.

I don’t really expect the Mariners to be in the Tanaka sweepstakes. Jack Z has said the M’s have reached their payroll limit, and although I don’t know if he truly means it, I am skeptical of the M’s potentially making another HUGE signing.

However, Hisashi Iwakuma could have some influence on Tanaka coming to Seattle, but other teams have Japanese pitchers too. The Yankees have Hiroki Kuroda and the Rangers have Yu Darvish.

Anyway, I believe Tanaka being posted will open the floodgates to the remaining moves that will be made this offseason, as many of the free agents were waiting to see where Tanaka fell, if he did at all, to make their next move.

I fully expect within days of the Tanaka saga conclusion, the M’s will sign Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, or Ervin Santana, or some other (perhaps relief?) pitcher. I’ll put the odds of the Yankees signing Tanaka versus the field signing Tanaka at 45-55. Maybe 50-50.

Merry Christmas!

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Rangers Sign Choo, M’s Next Big Move

It was announced today that the Texas Rangers signed OF Shin Soo Choo for 7 years and $130 million.

This is a good signing for the Rangers. Choo’s projected value over the next 7 years is about $125 million, so this is a very slight overpay. The Rangers are probably now the favorite to win the division. I wish we signed Choo, but this signing likely means that a big move from the Mariners is coming up soon.

This move will likely end up netting us an outfielder, as the current outfield looks pretty terrible–defensively at least.

The only guarantee for an outfield spot at this point is Franklin Gutierrez in center field. All other spots will be filled by some combination of Dustin Ackley, Michael Saunders, Willie Bloomquist, Corey Hart, Logan Morrison, and perhaps Nick Franklin. Only Michael Saunders and Dustin Ackley have proven to be even average outfield defenders. All of the others are slightly below average to downright horrendous defenders (Logan Morrison).

The M’s learned last year that a bad outfield defense is detrimental to the win column. They also learned that a bad outfield offense isn’t very helpful either. But just because you learned that bad outfield defense really is as bad as it sounds, doesn’t mean you will apply that knowledge.

Enter Nelson Cruz, Jack Zduriencik’s dream player: aging, slow, ‘roided up, but can hit a few homers. Nelson Cruz is a strikeout machine (it’s a shame he’s not a pitcher). He can’t draw a walk to save his life, and his batting average hovers around only .260.

His only upside is his slugging percentage, which hovers right about .500 for his career.

In 2013, he put up 1.5 WAR over 109 games. He’s played in over 130 games in a season only once in his career, missing a lot of time due to injuries and suspensions.

However, Cruz would fill up a need in the outfield, and would provide Robinson Cano with some pretty good lineup protection, as Cruz has hit at least 22 homers over the last 5 years despite missing quite a bit of time.

If the M’s were to gain a legitimate middle of the lineup homerun threat to protect Cano, that would be very valuable–more valuable, in fact, than what the M’s would likely pay Cruz.

Cruz has also had a few above-average defensive years, so if he can revert back to those days, he stands a legitimate shot at being a 3.0 WAR player.

However, if Cruz is signed, that would likely mean the end of many different players’ time in Seattle, including Michael Saunders and Nick Franklin.

However, there also is the possibility that the M’s trade for an outfielder, as opposed to signing Cruz. If the M’s can acquire Matt Kemp via trade, I would prefer Kemp and his much higher salary over Cruz.

Anyway, there’s only so much speculation that can be done. I’d prefer to wait and see what the Mariners do over the next couple of days and then analyze that situation. But just be warned: the M’s will probably sign Nelson Cruz over the next couple of days.

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Mariners Resign Franklin Gutierrez, Avoid Arbitration with Furbush

The M’s made two good moves yesterday. They avoided a possible arbitration situation with Charlie Furbush by signing him to a one year deal worth $750,000. This is $246,000 more than last season.

The M’s also signed Franklin Gutierrez, even after declining the club option for 2014. The 2014 club option would have been worth $7 million, and this contract is worth $1 million, with playing-time incentives up to $2 million.

The Furbush deal was practically guaranteed to happen. There was 100% chance of him playing for the Mariners next year from the get go, but I, like some other people, assumed Franklin was going to be gone after three injury-plagued seasons.

However, Jack Zduriencik hinted a couple of weeks ago that despite declining the club option for 2014, that he was still interested in bringing back Franklin Gutierrez.

This is a low-risk, high-reward signing.

Gutierrez is only 30 years old. If he had not been injured the last 3 years, he would have just reached the peak of his prime, and would be likely to stay there for at least one or two more seasons.

I like this deal. Franklin Gutierrez has the potential to be a truly great baseball player.

In 2009, at age 26, Franklin produced a WAR of 6.0. To put that in perspective, Robinson Cano’s WAR in 2009 was only 4.0. In 2010, despite playing 152 games, his WAR regressed to 1.9. In 2010, he won a Gold Glove for outfield. Now, will Guti put up a 6.0 WAR in 2014? I would be willing to bet $100 that he won’t come even close to that. But is a 3.0-3.5 WAR possible?

Certainly.

The implications of this signing are quite large. The M’s have enough outfielders for an entire season now. Corey Hart, Logan Morrison, Dustin Ackley, Franklin Gutierrez, Nick Franklin, and Abraham Almonte are all capable enough outfielders. This makes a few players expendable. Justin Smoak is now expendable. Ackley and Saunders are both expendable. Nick Franklin is expendable.

Justin Smoak, in my opinion, is finished with the Mariners. He simply has not performed well enough to stick around with the Mariners any longer. He needs a change of scenery and the Mariners are overloaded at the 1B/DH position. There are several potential suitors for Smoak.

Michael Saunders also has major trade value at the moment. He has produced 3.3 total WAR over the last two years, and since he is still young at only 27, there is still some room for development. Again, a change of scenery may be all he needs to become an above average major league player.

I would like to see Dustin Ackley and Nick Franklin stay around for a while longer. Ackley had a tremendous second half in 2013, and Nick Franklin was in contention for the Rookie of the Year award before falling into a second half slump. I want Ackley around for at least 1 more year. Nick Franklin’s defensive slot was given to Robinson Cano, so there will be a need to find him a spot in the outfield or at shortstop.

At this point, I hope the M’s outfield looks to shape up like this for most games: Nick Franklin LF, Franklin Gutierrez CF, Dustin Ackley RF. This would leave Logan Morrison 1B duties and Corey Hart DH duties. Willie Bloomquist will be the utility player and give guys breaks when they need them. This scenario means Justin Smoak and Michael Saunders will be traded.

Anyway, I digress. The M’s lineup looks to be shaping up slightly below average defensively, unless Gutierrez can have an absurd year in center field, which would essentially cancel out everyone else’s subpar defensive play. The offense, assuming progression from Brad Miller, Nick Franklin, Dustin Ackley, and Logan Morrison, looks like it could finally break into the top half of the Majors. But that’s a lot of assumptions.

Let’s just wait and see and hope Santa brings us Matt Kemp as a late Christmas present, but for now, the M’s are making moves, and that’s something to rejoice in and of itself.

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Santana, Garza, Jimenez, Oh My!

The three marquee pitchers left on the free agent market are Ervin Santana, Matt Garza, and Ubaldo Jimenez. All three are good pitchers: all three posted positive WARs and had at least nine wins each in 2013.

According to multiple reports, the Mariners are looking to bolster their starting rotation with one more veteran. This veteran pitcher will separate Fliex Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma from the youngsters Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Brandon Maurer, and Erasmo Ramirez.

This is because the Mariners worry that the four young guns won’t be able to handle the load early in the season. Besides, one or more of them are practically guaranteed to start the season in Triple A or get traded before the end of Spring Training.

So which of the free agents should the Mariners sign?

Last year, Garza, who finished the season with the Rangers, pitched only 155 innings but struck out 136 batters, which is good for a 20.9% strikeout percentage. He walked 42 batters at a 6.4% clip. His WAR was 2.2, and his FIP was 3.88, good for a 3.82 ERA.

Santana, who played the entire year for the Royals, threw 211 innings. He struck out 161 batters and walked 51. His WAR was 3.0. His FIP was 3.93, which was good for a 3.24 ERA.

Jimenez played in Cleveland. He was a strikeout machine with 194 strikeouts in only 183 innings. He walked his fair share of batters too, average 3.94 batters walked per 9 innings. As they say, there’s no defense for a walk. His FIP was 3.43, and he produced 3.2 WAR.

The contract figures that are being tossed around for these three guys are not overly huge, put they are not pocket change, either. Their expected contracts are around 5 years and $60-$70 million. The Mariners can certainly afford to add that to their payroll, as currently they only have about $66.5 million committed to players in 2014, with that number likely to inflate to about $75 million with new arbitration contracts being made with Justin Smoak, Michael Saunders, Kyle Seager, among others.

So which of these guys will get the Mariners the best results, both next year and over the 4-5 years after that?

Matt Garza is by far the biggest injury risk, as he hasn’t pitched over 160 innings since 2011. Both Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez have been workhorses their entire careers. Jimenez has pitched over 170 innings in every season starting in 2008, and Santana has logged over 210 innings in three of the last four years with a brief, 178 inning respite in 2012.

All three pitchers are about the same age. Garza turned 30 two weeks ago. Santana turned 31 yesterday, and Jimenez will turn 30 at the end of January. Faster age regression will not be a bigger issue with any one of the pitchers more than any other.

Jimenez has average 3.275 WAR over the last 4 years, but only 2.2 in the last 3. Between  2008 and 2011, Jimenez had 4 straight seasons with a WAR over 3. In 2013, he posted the third lowest FIP of his entire career, and also struck out batters at a higher rate than he had in any of his previous seasons. His walk rate was comparable to the rest of his career, excluding 2012.

Santana has only 3 seasons with a >3 WAR tucked in his belt. He even has a year where he produced a -1.0 WAR (2012). Over the course of his career, he has posted a sub-4.00 FIP only twice; once in 2008, when he had a WAR of 6.0, and in 2013. Santana does not strike out nearly as many people as Jimenez (6.87 K/9 compared to 9.56 K/9), however, he walks only 2.18 batters per nine innings compared to Jimenez’s 3.94 BB/9.

Matt Garza has been much more consistent over the course of his career. He has posted a WAR between 1.1 and 3.2 in 5 of his 6 full years in the Majors. His ERA has started with a 3 in each of his full Major League seasons. However, his FIP has been on the rise for three straight years now, and has posted FIPs over 4 in all but two of his full seasons (2011 and 2013).

I believe that the best way to decide which pitcher will be best for the M’s will be average velocity (now and their best season), K/9, BB/9, HR/9, Innings Pitched, and FIP.

Examine the following table:

 
Garza
Santana
Jimenez
Innings Pitched155.1211.0182.0
K/97.886.879.56
HR/91.161.110.79
BB/92.432.183.94
FIP3.883.933.43
Average Velocity (Best Year)93.894.896.3
Average Velocity (2013)93.292.892.1

Garza is obviously the riskiest option, as he has not pitched nearly as much as Santana and Jimenez over the last two seasons. That outweighs all other factors. He will no longer be considered as a possible best option.

What worries me about Jimenez is his drastic decline in velocity over the last couple of seasons. His average fastball velocity has decreased over 4 MPH, and that change in mechanics is likely also the cause of his control issues over his career. At the same time, Santana’s velocity has not decreased nearly as much, only 2 MPH over a much longer time span.

Santana’s game is much less reliant on the strikeout, as he produces a lot of ground balls, and slightly less fly balls. However, his strategy will be suited to Safeco field due to the large dimensions and a slightly above average infield defense.

Jimenez produces slightly more groundballs than Santana, while striking out a lot more batters, too. This is helpful for him because the Mariners outfield defense looks like it will be average at best. Jimenez’s FIP was 0.5 lower than Santana’s in 2013. He also struck out many more people, and that outweighed his higher walk rate. Jimenez allowed 0.32 less homeruns per 9 innings, which obviously is quite advantageous, especially on the road.

I believe Ubaldo Jimenez is the best option for the Mariners to target this offseason. He had the best season of the three in 2013, and has been more consistent over his career than Santana. Jimenez is adjusting to life without an overpowering fastball, and his upside for 2014 and beyond is absolutely tremendous. I see a possibility where he becomes a 4.5+ WAR pitcher over the next few years.

The Mariners should jump on this guy as quickly as they can to be their number 3 starter in the rotation behind Felix and Hisashi. Can you imagine a rotation with two of the top five starters in the American League in Felix and Hisashi, plus a number three who is really a number one on most teams, PLUS a developing core of Taijuan Walker and James Paxton? That sure would be fun to watch.

Ubaldo Jimenez has outstanding upside potential over what could be an absolute steal of a contract. The M’s need one more impact player to compete in 2014. The answer? Ubaldo Jimenez.

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M’s Acquire Corey Hart and Logan Morrison

Today the Mariners signed outfielder/first basemen/DH Corey Hart and traded reliever Carter Capps to the Miami Marlins for outfielder/first basemen/DH Logan Morrison.

Corey Hart did not play in 2013 due to surgeries on both of his knees before the season. The Mariners inked him to a one year deal worth $5 million. This deal is certainly a win for both sides. Corey Hart is looking to resurrect his career, and will have that opportunity with the Mariners. He bats right-handed, something the Mariners surely considered, due to their current heavy left-handedness at the plate.

The Mariners also needed a player at DH. Hart will be able to fill that role while resting his knees. His defense is not much to talk about anyway, however. Hart’s practically guarantees that Kendrys Morales will not wear a Mariners uniform next year.

Hart is a big player (6’6″) with reasonably high upside for a $5 million contract. In his last three seasons with the Brewers he totaled 8.1 WAR. In 2012, his last season in the Bigs, he belted 30 homers and had a slugging percentage of .507, which is above average. He strikes out a lot, in about 21% of his at-bats, but he doesn’t walk very much–in only ~7% of his at-bats.

These two factors contribute to his low on-base percentage. His batting average on balls in play has been about league average his entire career, so there have been no flukes in regards to production.

Overall this is a good signing for the Mariners. It fills their hole at DH and will be able to give Robinson Cano some protection in the lineup, all for a relatively low price of $5 million (disregarding incentives).

Logan Morrison however, is somewhat of a reclamation project. He is very similar to Justin Smoak because he was once a highly-rated prospect, but now is struggling to keep his career alive.

He only has one defensive position that he doesn’t suck at, and that is first base, where he is slightly-below-average.

His defense in left-field is so bad that it totally offsets any offensive production he happens to create.

This move may indicate that Justin Smoak is on his way out, because there isn’t enough room for three first base/DH’s in the lineup.

To acquire Morrison, the M’s traded away hard-throwing reliever Carter Capps. Capps has a higher floor than Morrison, but he certainly has a lower ceiling, too. Morrison has produced exactly 1 WAR in his career. He produced 1 win in his first year, which was 2010, which means he has been a replacement level player over the last three years. Morrison was at one point rated as the 20th best prospect in the league, but now with injuries hampering him the future does not look too bright for LoMo.

Morrison’s only ‘good’ season so far (2010) was the result of an astronomical BABIP.  There is not much to say except the Mariners are probably now looking to trade either LoMo or Justin Smoak, as two first base projects who both can’t hit left handed pitching aren’t fit to stay on the same team.

The Tampa Bay Rays are looking for a first basemen. Maybe Jack Zduriencik is looking to package one of these guys in a deal for David Price.

Anyway, the M’s made two mid-level moves for two mid-level players today. And neither of them are disappointing or overly exciting. They filled a hole with Hart and gained another former-top-prospect-turned-struggling-big-leaguer in Logan Morrison. Other than the fact that Corey Hart could have a nice comeback year, there isn’t much to say about these moves. They just happened.

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M’s Opportunity to Sign Choo Increasing: An Analysis

The M’s are in the market for a free-agent outfielder, as the M’s outfield struggled a lot during the 2013 campaign.

Shin Soo Choo is a free agent. He is also an outfielder. He also happens to be pretty good.

Bringing in Choo would have drastic effects on the Mariner’s win column. Cano coupled with the possible addition of Choo puts the Mariners in the mix for the AL West title.

Choo was reported earlier this week to be looking for a contract similar to Jacoby Ellsbury’s 7 year, $148 million contract. I wrote earlier this week that Choo’s estimated value over the next seven years is about $125 million. A contract in this ballpark was looking like it would be too low just a couple of days ago, but now is looking more and more reasonable, due to teams who were formerly in the market for Choo are now no longer are. The Arizona Diamondbacks just completed a blockbuster trade to acquire Mark Trumbo from the LA Angels. The Detroit Tigers signed Rajai Davis to a contract rumored to be for 2 years and about $10 million.

Count both of those two teams out. That leaves the Mariners and the Texas Rangers as the two main players left on the Choo Choo Train.

Scott Boras, Choo’s partner in crime agent was quoted earlier today saying that the Rangers and Choo were “a good fit”. I’m pretty sure just about every team is “a good fit” for a top of the line lead-off hitter. Don’t count the Mariners out of it yet. Not that you ever did.

It’s a good idea to dig a little deeper into Choo’s stats, considering there is a high probability that the M’s sign him. A important thing to note is that his platoon splits are huge. Like Arnold big. When hitting against right-handers, he’s practically Miguel Cabrera, but when staring down a southpaw, he turns into Dustin Ackley. And not even the good 2011 version of Dustin.

Last year against right handers, Choo’s OBP (on-base percentage) was .457, which is absolutely astronomical. His OBP against lefties was a mere .347–still pretty good, but still .110 points lower than against righties. Most pitchers in the Majors happen to be right-handed, so this is advantageous for both Choo and the team that signs him. However, his performance against both righties and lefties will start to decline significantly after 3 or 4 years, so at that time the Mariners would be wise to find him a platoon partner, but one is not necessary for a few years.

His first and second half splits were pretty close to identical, and he had only one bad month, which was June, where his OBP was only .364. In his worst month last season, he still had a considerably above-average OBP. That’s nice to know.

Choo’s stats from earlier in his career are promising, too. His strikeout rate has hovered between 18% and 21% for most of his career. Choo’s walk rate hovered from 10% to 13%, and in 2013 walked 15.7% of the time. That should be expected to come back down to Earth in 2014, likely between 12% and 13%. Choo’s WAR in four of the last six years has been 3.0 or higher, the only exceptions being 2011 and 2012, where he produced WARs of 1.3 and 2.4, respectively.

Last season, Choo recorded the second-lowest BAPIP of his career at .338. This is good news as Choo’s success last year cannot be chalked up to luck. A very interesting stat of Choo’s to note is his success (?) in getting hit by pitches. Before 2013, Choo had not been hit more than 17 times in one season. In 2013, he was pegged an astounding 26 times. That is not a fluke. Choo is putting his body on the line for the sake of getting on base. That is an admirable quality for a player to have, and one that will certainly inflate his on-base percentage stats.

Is it possible that in 2013 Choo knew that this was a large contract year for him, and stepped in to a few pitches in order to inflate his OBP numbers? It’s certainly possible. Would I step into 10 extra pitches in order to attain a higher OBP that will likely fetch me over $100 million? Absolutely. However, is it likely that Choo stepped in 95 MPH fastballs knowing it would inflate OBP numbers and thus free agent value? Probably not.

Something that Choo has going for him is a body type that tends to age better than most. He is 5’11″ and weighs in at 205 pounds. Guys like that tend to age better than their taller and heavier counterparts. This should make the Mariners more interested in Choo.

Choo will have another tremendous season in 2014. His WAR will likely be somewhere within 0.5 of 5.0, which would be worth $25 million dollars on the free agent market. The Mariners hopefully are having talks with Choo. If he can be signed for under $120 million and 7 years, barring any injuries, the contract would end up being worth it. If the M’s can ink him to a deal that is worth millions less than that, good. Hopefully Choo ends up wearing a Mariners uniform come 2014. And hopefully it’s not for $150 million.

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