Mariners Trading Deadline Moves Indicate Strong Push for 2018

It’s no secret that the last time the Mariners made the post-season was 2001. And so with the team within striking distance of the playoffs this year, an impatient management team could go all-in with a pair of 6’s and hope for the best. Thankfully, this team held onto its chips and is preparing for the next hand.

Bad luck happens. Who knows where the team would be with a healthy Smyly and Iwakuma all year? Give them +4 wins with those guys and the standings look different. But that’s baseball.

Sure, they may still make an unexpected run in September this year and make the Wild Card. In which case they’d have to fly to New York or Boston and win a one game series against Sonny Gray or David Price. And their reward for winning that would be a five game series with Houston.

I think the Mariners made the right moves by not betting the farm – literally. You have to figure the team has at best about a 20-25% chance to make the Wild Card, a 35-40% chance of winning the Wild Card game, and a 30-35% chance of beating the Astros. Multiply those out and it gives you about a 3.5% chance of making it to the ALCS. That isn’t worth mortgaging the future.

This year the problem was that they made it to the trading deadline, wanted to bring in some added help, and didn’t have much to give in return. So the team did the next best thing. If they couldn’t get people to help in 2017, they went and got a few players they could use at the 2018 deadline.

When we get to July 31, 2018, hopefully the Mariners will be within striking distance for the AL West. Let’s assume the team can pick up a piece or two via free agency this off-season to add to a solid core (Segura, Cano, Cruz and Seager,) a good young outfield, some quality starting pitchers and a lights-out bullpen. Then with a depth of starting pitching acquired at this year’s deadline, and an improved farm system, they’ll have the trading pieces they need for some key late season acquisitions.

Whether or not they make an unexpected run this year, the table is set for 2018 and beyond. And that’s a good thing.

Totally Unfounded Speculation About Alex Rodriguez

There is almost zero percent chance that this hypothesis is accurate. But suppose…

  • Rather than release him outright, the Yankees offered Alex Rodriguez the role of “Special Advisor” because they could make sure the contract he signed and the $20+ million they still owe him would be contingent on him actually being a Yankee Special Advisor.
  • So in order for him to go play for another team, he would have to negotiate an end to his current contract, since he is now contracted to be a Yankees Special Advisor until the end of 2017.
  • Remember, the Yankees cut him at 696 home runs, BUT instead of waiting until the end of the year, they left him with enough time in the season to get 4 more HR’s to get to 700.
  • So, maybe they specifically did that so some team out of the playoff race would try to sign him on the cheap for the marketing exposure of his chase to 700.
  • And if another team does want him for that purpose, there’s no way a guy wth his pride and ego would turn down the chance to join the 700 club.
  • So then the Yankees could either choose to keep him from playing for another team, or make him cancel the remaining salary he is owed.
  • And then he would have to choose what is more important… $20+ million more dollars on top of the $500 million he’s earned, or the chance to get 4 more HR’s and join a really exclusive club.

Maybe… well played Yankees?

The Problem With Expectations

Today is a day for long-time Mariners fans to do some reflecting. Yesterday seemed like a re-run of something we have seen before. A game against the Yankees, that we should have been won, and yet somehow turned into a loss.

Let’s look at the Mariners record since 1977 and then this year:
+ Going into 2015, the team was 2,822-3,209. That’s a winning pct of .468 which gives them an average of 76 wins per year.
+ In 2015, the Mariners are currently 24-28. That’s a winning pct of .462, which would project them to win 75 games this year.
So by all accounts, the 2015 Mariners are performing ALMOST EXACTLY in line with the 1977 – 2014 Mariners. And yet this season feels like a failure.

So why did this defeat feel so much worse? Why did this loss feel like the end of a season?

It’s simple really. Expectations.

I think you can break the Mariners into 3 eras. Pre-Lou. Lou. And Post-Lou. Lou was the Manager from 1993-2002, but for the purposes of this discussion, we’re going to start the “Lou” era 2 years after he got to Seattle (to account for the time it took for him to make his impact) and end it the year after he left (to account for the residual effect he may have had.)

Pre-Lou (1977 to 1994) – Record: 1,215-1,595 (.432). Avg record: 70-92
Lou (1995 to 2003) – Record: 802-637 (.557). Avg record: 90-72
Post-Lou (2004 – 2015) – Record: 829-1005 (.452). Avg record: 73-89

So if you became a Mariners fan after 2003, your expectations are nil. I mean you *may* remember 2009 when they rang up 85 wins, but more likely 2014 was the first time you realized their season actually extended into September.

But if you were here from 1995-2003, well there are EXPECTATIONS. We had 4 playoff runs in those 9 years and were over .500 every year except two. Making the playoffs 4 out of 9 years seems about right for a team with the best pitcher in the game, a beautiful ballpark and access to a ton of cash.

So many people hoped that with last year’s results, the Post-Lou era could be officially closed. We could make 2014 the first year of the new “Cano” era. 2015 would be EXPECTED to improve upon the last.

And thus last night felt like the end of that hope.

The Mariners can play 24-28 baseball the rest of the season and perform in line with the average history of the franchise. But this year the expectations were bigger – that the team had broken out of the Post-Lou funk. And thus this year’s “average” performance will bring with it disenchantment and disappointment. That’s the problem with expectations.

How Marketing is Like Little League

Every spring, tens of thousands of dads, friends, uncles and even moms embark on the gratifying, frustrating and always surprising journey of coaching a Little League baseball team.

Other than Crossfit and Fantasy Football, there may not be an activity that is so mind-absorbing to you – and that absolutely no one around you wants to hear about. No one outside your bubble of coaches and parents cares about little Jimmy’s amazing catch in center field.

But I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t subject you to my thoughts on the matter in this little forum. And my thoughts revolve around how coaching 9 year old baseball players is a lot like running a marketing program.

Andy Little League small1) Every channel / kid is different: Coaching would be easy if you could just get out front of the audience, give a little spiel about how to turn your hips when swinging, and watch everyone respond in perfect union. But one kid is going to interpret that message as, “Pretend like its a hula-hoop” and another is going to hear, “Keep my feet perfectly still like they are in cement and turn my hips.” Just as every online or offline channel you choose needs its own nuanced content, you must also shape your message for the kids.

2) No matter what you do, some audiences are just not going to do what you want them to do: You can test images, graphics, copy, videos and more. Your content can be fabulous, and still there’s a percent of the market that will ignore, or not understand, anything you try to get across to them. You can explain over and over again, “Run through first base.” You can do drills in which they run through first base. You can have quizzes and ask them what they are supposed to do when they get to first base. During the game, 11 out of 12 kids will run through first base. And the 12th kid is still going to slide, come up short, be out by 2 feet, end the rally and the coach will have to resist throwing his scorebook through the fence.

3) You will have some successes you shouldn’t have, which makes it hard to change: A 9 year old doesn’t know how good he can be. He looks around and sees he hits better than most of the kids despite only keeping one hand on the bat, and says, “That’s good enough.” You beg and plead, “You will be a better hitter if you keep that 2nd hand on the bat.” And so he takes one swing in batting practice, keeps both hands on the bat, misses the ball and decides that sample set is large enough that he’s never going to listen to you again. He shouldn’t be able to hit with one hand, but since he can, he won’t change. We have marketing campaigns that are “doing ok” so we may be resistant to change. It shouldn’t be doing well, but we can’t ensure we’ll do better. And when we dip our toes in the water and have a day of less success, we revert back to what we know.

4) There is always a team with greater resources who looks impossible to beat: In our league, we have the team that plays hard and fast with the rules. The team knew of an all-star player, kept him out of the draft, and then had him join their team later when no one was looking. In 9 year old Little League! Plus, the kids of all the coaches are all 1st rounders that got placed on the team with their dads. So by very definition, they have 4 first round quality players and everyone else has one, maybe two. Your marketing team has less money than Starbucks, less brand power than Coke, fewer distribution channels than Microsoft and can’t afford Apple’s Brand, Design and Ad Agencies. That’s just the way it is. You have to be smarter, see who it is you can beat, and possibly just accept you may not beat everyone.

5) The losses will be hard to take but the wins will be fantastic: Something is always going to surprise you. The kid who never gets a hit will make it to first – and even run through the bag! The center fielder will track down the longest ball hit against you all season and make an amazing catch. The first baseman staring at the kids in the other dugout will make a back handed stab. You just never know where these unexpected gems will happen. You’ll want to take credit for them, but just enjoy the win. It doesn’t matter if the idea for the ad came from the copywriter, admin, customer service rep or janitor. It’s a team win when it works, no matter how and why it happened.

Those are my 5 takeaways. I’m sure I’ll think of more, but like most Little League baseball games, this post has dragged on too long and we’ve seen enough pitches already. I’ll just be thankful if someone of them were strikes.

Friday Fun – What It Would Take to Make the Mariners the Top Hitting Team in Baseball

I’ll preface this by saying that this will not be the most complex baseball analysis you’ve ever read. I understand that to make this worth anything, I’d need to factor in stadium anomalies, opposing pitcher records and fielding statistics. If you want an exotic smorgasboard of premium baseball analysis, I suggest heading over to the U.S.S. Mariner.com. Consider my contribution here the baseball equivalent of a food truck.

But this week I wondered aloud, what would it take for the Mariners to be the best hitting team in baseball? Are we one player away or nine? I really didn’t know so I dusted off my excel spreadsheet for this totally unscientific report.

The test is simple. If we replaced the lowest performing Mariners starter with the best hitter in baseball, how would team stats change? Then, how many times do we have to do that to be among the top?

Step 1: Where are we today?

Let’s take a look at the MLB Team Batting Averages, ranked 1-30. (Yes, I know Batting Average is an antiquated way to calculate offensive performance. Remember, I’m only working with a food truck kitchen.)

Major_League_Baseball_Team_Averages_April_25

 

Step 2: What do our individual stats look like?

So here’s a quick look at the Mariners batting stats. I highlighted the starters, because that’s really the analysis we need to do. There are 8 clear starters, and 4 players who seem to regularly rotate around as that 9th player in the lineup, and a few guys with a couple of at bats each. So for the purpose of this discussion, which is trading one starter for another, we’ll only work with the 8 regulars.

Mariners_Averages_April_25

 

Step 3: What happens when we trade our lowest performing starter for the leading hitter in baseball?

Again, we’re ranking the best hitter by average, not WAR, OPS or anything complex. Right now, that guy is Charlie Blackmon of the Colorado Rockies, who is off to a blistering .410 start. So here’s our new roster, subbing Blackmon for our lowest average starter, Kyle Seager.

Mariners_Averages_April_25_Blackmon

Our average jumped 24 points to .246. So by replacing our worst hitter with MLB’s best, we’ve only made it to 18th on the list.

 

Step 4:  What happens when we trade our two lowest performing starters for the two leading hitters in baseball?

Once again we head to Colorado, where we are kidnapping Troy Tulowitski and putting him on a cargo plane north. This time it’s Brad Miller who is getting our ax.

Mariners_Averages_April_25_Tulowitski

We’ve now jumped to .267 which puts us a very respectable 7th in the league. So what does it take to get to the top?

 

Step 5:  What happens when we trade our THREE lowest performing starters for the THREE leading hitters in baseball?

Say good-bye to Abraham Almonte and please welcome Dayan Viciedo and his .377 average to the Pacific Northwest.

Mariners_Averages_April_25_Viciedo

We’ve now swapped out 33.3% of our starting lineup, and raised our batting average 63 points. And yet, that still keeps us behind the League Leading Colorado Rockies. (And yes, I know that if we took two guys off their roster they wouldn’t be at .301 anymore. Just go with it.)

 

Bonus Section:

I have the spreadsheet built, so let’s do one more just for fun. Suppose we didn’t attain the three top hitters in baseball in what surely would be the savviest three-way trade in the history of baseball. Suppose we just ended up with three hitters who were at the MLB average replacing our lowest three.

Now, this is a little wonky, because I took the MLB averages for all the teams combined, and then divided those by 9. The reasoning is that each team has 9 spots in the batting order, so it’s a fair approximation of what the average player on the average team would do if he played in every game.

Mariners_Averages_April_25_Average

You see we jump up to .241, which only gets us in a tie for 22nd with Arizona.

 

Conclusion:

So how far are the Mariners away from having an offense that strikes fear into opposing pitcher rather than just striking out? Well, we are clearly more than 3 average hitters away. And it’s unlikely we’ll get the three top hitters. So we need at least three well above average hitters to dent the top 10.

If you have a Dropbox account, you can download the spreadsheet here. I don’t know why the numbers look weird in View mode.

I Went To A Mariners Game… And It Was Fun

We are 4.32% of the way through the MLB season. And your Seattle Mariners are in 1st place.

Sure, we still have about 1,395 innings to play. And a lot of things can go wrong during those innings. But for 9 innings yesterday on a rainy April evening, it was FUN to be in Safeco Field. I can’t remember the last time I said that.

I’ve “enjoyed myself” at Safeco Field a few times in the last 5 years. I’ve also “spent time with friends” there. But I can’t remember the last time a combination of optimism, anticipation, energy and crowd noise equaled a “fun time.”

But there I was, watching Corey Hart hit two home runs to lead the 1st place Mariners to a come from behind win over the arch-rival Angels in front of a sold out and loud stadium. Look at all those words I haven’t been able to use in a long time to describe the Seattle 9:
– Two home runs
– Win
– Come from behind
– Loud
– Sold out
– 1st place

I’m not going to project that the Mariners will still be in 1st place on Sept 1 and that we’ll be in a playoff race. I won’t presume that the next 1,395 innings will be devoid of heartache, injury or frustration.

But I will enjoy this time. Top of the standings, a potential Cy Young winner and some young exciting players, combining to make baseball fun again. That’s all we can ask for.

Biggio vs Jeter

Imagine if Craig Biggio played for the Yankees his whole career:
  • Craig Biggio: 2850 G, 3060 H, 1844 R, 668 2B, 291 HR, 414 SB, .281 BA, .791 OPS, Played C, 2B and OF
  • Derek Jeter: 2602 G, 3316 H, 1876 R, 525 2B, 256 HR, 348 SB, .312 BA, .828 OPS, Played SS
Biggio always had to be one of the best hitters on his team. Jeter always had $150-200MM of payroll surrounding him.
Jeter will be 1st ballot Hall of Famer.  Biggio will have to wait again for next year.
Poor guy.

A Cynical Realization About How I Read News

It’s coffee break time. So I head over to Deadspin.com to do a quick scroll to see if there’s anything im-sport-ant for me to follow up on.  (Yes I created that term to describe important sports news, and I will allow you to use it…)

The latest story on the A-Rod mess attracts my attention. I read the story. I see both sides to the issue. I want more info.

So here’s the main plot point in my story here – I am looking for objective, fair and unbiased facts that I can read through. I want to get news, not filtered bullet points provided by either side’s PR teams. I unconsciously scroll through my mental list of places to type in my browser next. Here’s how that thought process went:

  • MLB.com  – No, that’s a marketing site, not a sports news site.
  • Espn.com – No, they will basically have someone from MLB.com writing the story, with the CFO and head of the MLB / ESPN relationship approving it. It will be completely one-sided.
  • FoxSports.com – No, they aren’t going to bite the hand that feeds them either.
  • SeattleTimes.com – No, the baseball beat writers are probably on furlough until February.
  • SportsPressNW.com – Yes, I’ll check them out, but will expect the article later in the week since it’s not pressing news right now.
  • 710Sports.com – No, the home of the Mariners is not going to write anything negative about MLB.
  • Any of the news sites – No, they are probably just going to have 3-4 paragraphs pulled from MLB.com.
  • USSMariner.com – YES. they may not have the story, but I bet the KNOW where a good article is.

And I was rewarded. A USSMariner.com article had a link to this awesome piece by Wendy Thurn at Fangraphs.com.

But now think about this. I have been trained that whenever there is an “insportant” story, I can’t go to any major media outlet to get fair coverage. The news, sports and entertainment divisions of companies are so intertwined, my unconscious reaction is to ignore anyone who has any official relationship with Major League Baseball.  Not to read the story with a grain of salt on my tongue. Not to read the story and then look for countering arguments. But to sidestep all broadcasters associated with MLB all together.

Am I too cyncial? Maybe. Or maybe I’ve just been conditioned to know what to expect from them.

If the Mariners Had Kept Everyone They Drafted…

Hat tip to the Snohomish bureau of AndyBoyer.com for digging up this little article from Dominic Lanza at http://itsaboutthemoney.net. The premise  is simple, even though the work was grueling and tedious. Lanza answers the question, “What would every MLB team look like if it was only made up of players it drafted?”

Of course, what you hope is that the team you have today is better than the team on this list. That would indicate you were able to sell the talent you had in your system for more than it was worth, and buy bargains along the way.  Unfortunately, in the Mariners case it looks like we are pretty good at drafting talent, and then selling it at bargain prices.

I added a (*) next to everyone no longer on the roster, meaning they were let go and contributing for someone else now.

Seattle Mariners

Starting Pitchers
• Doug Fister (*)
• Felix Hernandez
• Hisashi Iwakuma
• Brandon Morrow (*)
• Chris Tillman (*)

Bullpen
• Carter Capps
• Shawn Kelley (*)
• Yoervis Medina
• Eric O’Flaherty (*)
• J.J. Putz (*)
• Rafael Soriano (*)
• Matt Thornton (*)

Catchers
• Rene Rivera (*)
• Mike Zunino

Infielders
• Dustin Ackley
• Willie Bloomquist (*)
• Asdrubal Cabrera (*)
• Nick Franklin
• Brad Miller
• Kyle Seager

Outfielders
• Shin-Soo Choo (*)
• Raul Ibanez
• Adam Jones (*)
• Ichiro Suzuki (*)

Designated Hitter
• David Ortiz (*) (though this barely counts.)

More analysis on this report is here on Deadspin.

 

September 7 Will Be Chaos Downtown

I’m not sure how this is even possible, but my Google Calendar says it’s true, so it must be right.

Saturday Sept 7…

The Mariners are at home for a game that starts at 6:10 (See proof here.)
The Sounders play across the street at 7:05 (See proof here.)

Mariners games usually take 2:45 – 3:00 hours. Sounders games by definition take 1:45 (90 minutes plus 15 minutes for halftime).

That means 2 stadiums full of people, across the street from each other, will empty out at EXACTLY the same time, on a Saturday Night. I guess the total will still be slightly less than a Seahawks game, but it still seems like an invitation for chaos.