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Seattle Mariners: The ‘Pen Is an Awful Additon to Safeco Field

One of the best Mariner fan traditions, with all apologies to  Sean Kramer, is that when the Mariners are bad to mediocre, you can pay for seats in the nosebleeds and find a much better fan experience in vacant seats throughout different parts of the stadium.

Even in the Kingdome, where ushers seemed a lot more lenient, one could often make their way dozens of rows closer to the action.

At Safeco, the Mariners had (previously) worked very hard to create a better, more traditional baseball stadium experience than the dim and dreary Kingdome: a half-dozen stands serving garlic fries, a wide selection of Seattle craft beers and open access to the bullpen. A Mariners fan could conceivably buy $7 seats in the center field bleachers and watch the entire game from above the bullpen, obstructed only by a metal screen.

I’ve seen people get into fights there, I’ve seen people make friends there and I once saw a guy in a kilt, a mesh shirt, knee-high boots, a Scottish style plaid hat and a sign that said “Today is my bachelor party” hanging from his neck, spend two innings asking opposing pitchers if they thought he was sexy.

The bullpen was the best experience available at Safeco for the budget conscious. It was probably the best place to have a conversation or debate about baseball, and one of the few places you wouldn’t have your conversation supplemented with talk of the most recent gossip, the newest sale or best food at Starbucks. It was the only place in the stadium, by my estimation, where people spent their time for the sole purpose of watching the baseball game.

But when I heard that they’d lost the screen, I was really excited. When I saw that they’d mounted a bar-style table across the entire railing, I was thrilled.

Enter “The ‘Pen,” and exit everything good about Safeco field.

It used to be that you could walk from the bullpen to right field without having to hit stairs, and only when you got behind the center field beer garden did you have to take your eyes off the game. Now, you must drop down to the center field entrance to get to right field. Not that the game is completely out of site for the whole time, but there are actually restaurant-style booths along the way, completely out of view of the field or TV.

I witnessed four people sitting and talking, completely ignorant to the game, and none of them (not even the men) were even attempting to view the game on TV (if they had, they would probably have seen MMA on Versus instead of Seattle Mariners baseball).

Even their conversation was probably ruined by the loser (I’m sure he’s a nice person) playing cookie-cutter rap music so loud you can’t hear the crowd cheer, let alone the crack of the bat.

Eight-dollar mixed drinks that can’t be taken out of The ‘Pen and a crowded bar facing away from the field are no help. Root Sports has done a lot of great stuff to improve the fan experience for the broadcast, but to create a bar that is a magnet for the after-10, douchey sports bar crowd is an awful decision.


Check out North and South of Royal Brougham for articles like:

Is Michael Pineda better than Felix Hernandez?

A look at the new Blue Scholars video directed by the creators of Sonicsgate

When Seattle has Oklahoma City’s back

and Why Kyle Seager may be best served playing outfield

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Seattle Mariners: Should Felix Hernandez or Another Starter Be Traded?

Even after extending Felix Hernandez, the Mariners were faced with speculation that they’d trade their ace at the beginning of 2011. In the past couple days there has been a ton of speculation in the media about the team trading Erik Bedard, Jason Vargas or Doug Fister.

The Mariners should trade one of these guys, if the package they get in return is right.

There are a ton of components that go into a decision to trade a starting pitcher, not the least of which is that starter’s talent. We talk a lot about years of team control, which is certainly important, but are years of team control as valuable for a pitcher, presumed to be a back-of-the-rotation starter, as perhaps a mid-to-upper-rotation starter?

Certainly not.

And in Bedard, Vargas and Fister, the team has guys who can easily be perceived by some teams as fits in any of their rotations slots.

Fister is a prime example of where years of team control hold less value. Fister is a guy who has ridden a low HR/FB ratio and lackluster peripherals to solid results. On talent alone, Fister is a pretty generic option in trade. He’s a poor man’s Kevin Millwood or Livan Hernandez. Sure, if a team traded for him, they’d have him under team control for four more years after 2012, but he’s a huge regression candidate, especially in a different home ballpark (4.16 FIP career on the road, compared to 3.81 at Safeco).

Even in Safeco, the chances of Fister’s high wire act continuing is pretty slim and could be pushed out of the rotation by present farmhands in the next couple years. If the Mariners can get something of greater value for Fister, they should jump at the opportunity. I’d look for someone like Seth Smith from Colorado or Drew Sutton from Boston.

The other two pitchers, Bedard and Vargas, probably haven’t reached the potential peak of their value yet. If either of them (or both!) keep pitching the way they are right now, a Cliff Lee-like package isn’t completely out of the question.

Bedard is probably the more talented pitcher. He has a viable breaking ball and a better fastball. His problems, obviously, center on his health. This may lead the team, or fans, to want to trade Bedard as soon as possible, since he’s a high injury risk, and an injury would destroy his value. However, because they’ve bought so low on the new version of Bedard, he seems like a solid value to keep around until at least the beginning of July. If he gets hurt the sunk costs are minimal, and if he’s healthy, his value is likely to be at its peak by then.

Besides health, Bedard’s limiting factor is his pending free agency. After missing all of last year, it’s unlikely that Bedard is a Type A or B free agent after this season, and there is no guarantee that he remains the kind of bargain he has been for the Mariners so far this season (obviously not in the past).

Vargas is perhaps the most volatile. Just two days ago I proposed that the Mariners should either attempt to extend Vargas now, or this upcoming offseason, or never.

Just like the Mariners are at a critical point for Vargas’ future with the team, they may be at a critical point for his future with another team. It makes sense for the team to explore a trade for him, but having a low-cost, under-30, effective pitcher in the rotation, makes a hell of a lot of sense too.

There isn’t a ton of precedent for trading a guy with two years of team control, who is recently effective after a career full of struggles. Maybe the best comparable is Bronson Arroyo, who after two solid-ish years in Boston, was traded to Cincinnati for Wily Mo Pena about two weeks before the 2006 season. Pena’s name may not inspire excitement, but he was a top hitting prospect, which is a pretty big return for a guy of that type.

Arroyo was a well-known member of the 2004 World Series champion Red Sox, an intangible asset (undoubtedly an overvalued one) that Vargas doesn’t have. However, Vargas has posted better season prior to that.

The Mariners should trade one of these guys if it can improve the offense. But, they shouldn’t trade Bedard or Vargas for anything but top prospects. While the market for starting pitchers is developing, it certainly isn’t fully developed, and the Mariners should wait to trade either of the latter, or they’ll be getting less than full value for the pitchers.


North and South of Royal Brougham offers articles like this, as well as articles about things like:


Michael Pineda’s need for a nickname

The Seattle Sounders

The Seattle Seahawks Quarterback situation

Gary Payton’s Love for Seattle

and last but not least

Nate Robinson’s tweets, and how Seattle fans should receive them

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Seattle Mariners Rotation: Does Jason Vargas Deserve a Long Term Extension?

Jason Vargas has pitched his butt off this year, or his boobs as one Jeff Sullivan may say (Vargas really does look like Phil Mickelson in a baseball jersey). Nevertheless, Vargas is amidst his best season by far to this point.

For the record, I started writing this during the pregame show and thought I’d hold off to make sure Vargas didn’t drop the ball last night. Instead, he went out and posted perhaps his best outing of the year, with apologies to his nine innings of shutout ball his last outing.

But the biggest questions that need asking when a player suddenly starts posting better results are: Why? And are the results sustainable?

When Jason Vargas came to Seattle in the J.J. Putz trade, he looked like a sub-Quad-A throw in. A guy who’d had some success in the minors, none in the majors, and below-average peripherals. He’d just missed the entire 2008 season with hip labrum surgery, and had lost velocity since his college days while failing to develop his off speed pitches.

Vargas struggled again in 2009, but then something changed. Vargas went from a guy who threw about 70 percent fastballs and 20 percent changeups to a guy who threw about 60 percent fastballs and 30 percent changeups. Though the results were better, the peripheral stats didn’t really show improvement in 2010. His 4.60 xFIP was nearly equal to his 2009 4.61 xFIP.

Truth be told, it seemed like the only change in Vargas’ game was where he played his home ones. That worked for the Mariners, obviously, as Vargas was cheap and effective. Even if he never fully developed his repertoire, he may be overvalued by some other team and could ultimately still have value to the Mariners in trade once his salary increased in arbitration.

Basically, by throwing the two pitches at that rate, he’d made the fastball a little worse in terms of results but gained it back two-fold on his changeup results. With that, Vargas had gone from being a passable Triple-A starter to an average-to-below-average major league starter who had above-average results.

But perhaps something has changed for Vargas. According to PITCHf/x, Vargas has introduced a cutter this season. This could mean a lot of things. Anecdotally, Vargas has been throwing a cutter for a lot longer. As PITCHf/x improves and evolves, their thresholds for certain pitches become more refined. However, Vargas came into the league as a fastball-slider guy, and PITCHf/x hasn’t shown him throwing a single slider all year. They do have him throwing his cutter 22.6 percent of the time, which even if it had replaced his slider on Pitchf/x (which is nearly equal velocity), is nearly triple the frequency as he’s ever thrown his slider.

Whatever it is, it has been far more effective to this point than either his fastball or slider have ever been, good for 2.75 runs above replacement for every 100 times he throws it.

Last night may be the ultimate display of keeping hitters off balance for Vargas, as he threw 34 four-seam fastballs, 33 cut-fastballs and 32 changeups. There was a total of 7.4 mph difference in average velocity, 3.6 between the four-seamer and the cutter and 3.8 between the cutter and the change.

What this has led to, in whatever capacity one believes, is that this year Vargas has struck out more hitters, kept more batted balls on the ground, while posting what amounts to a career-low in terms of walk rate.

So when considering an extension during arbitration years, the Mariners have a few tough questions to ask themselves: Is Jason Vargas as good as his results indicate? Will he be in two years? Is a prospective discount worth the risk of guaranteeing Vargas two or three years? How much of his success has to do with Safeco Field, and how replaceable is Vargas? And how have Vargas’ contemporaries fared on the free-agent market?

The first two answers are highly debatable and fluid in nature until when the Mariners truly examine Vargas’ viability.

The rest of them may be due for some perspective. Vargas is making $2.45 million this year, he’ll have two more years of team control when the year is done, including two more trips to arbitration. If we subscribe to the 20-40-60-80 rule, Vargas would be due about $3.5 million in arbitration with equal production to last year, but a better 2011, which appears likely, and he’ll be headed for a much greater pay day. If we assume that Vargas compiles a full season better than 2010, which is probably the only outcome that leads to an extension, he’d probably be looking at about $5 million.

If we presume an accelerated $5 million mark for the “60” portion of the value schedule, we can assume that he’d be looking at about $6.5 million in 2013, the year before his first shot at free agency. Last year, Vargas was worth 2.6 WAR, or $10.4 million according to Fangraphs. He appears to be en route to much greater value this year, already compiling 1.1 WAR in 2011. About a quarter of the way through the season so far, it isn’t inconceivable to see Vargas post four wins this year, which would put his value around $20 million. If that happened, presuming a three-year deal which would buy out Vargas’ arbitration years and one free-agent year, you’re probably be looking at a contract range of $15-25 million.

Is any part of that a comfortable range? Vargas has essentially been good for the past about 250 innings, with only about 60 coming with supporting peripherals.

One of the major criticisms of Vargas is how heavily aided he is by Safeco Field. He’s pitched well at the home-ball park and not so well on the road. Though this year’s splits are much less defined (in a tiny road sample), there may be reason to believe that the gap between Vargas’ home FIP and xFIP, as well as ERA, are sustainable, as it logically makes sense for Vargas’ HR/FB to stay low in the power-sapping Safeco Field.

The hardest thing for Vargas to sustain, and ultimately the deciding factor for the viability and size of an extension, is his success on the road. So far this year, Vargas has a 47.8 percent ground-ball rate on the road, compared to a 35.5 percent for his career. If the cutter is doing it, there is something presently-unquantifiable that the Mariners may be able to look on as a building block for future success, but if it isn’t when Vargas regresses back to his mean, and his newly-found increased ground-ball rate go away, so will his positive results.

There really hasn’t been a great market set for pitchers like Vargas’ in the past couple years. His low walk and strikeout total are unmatched by the likes of Ted Lilly, Randy Wolf and Jorge de la Rosa. Each averages more strikeouts and more walks, while being skewed toward a fly-ball propensity. Each entered actual free agency, which Vargas won’t see for two more years. And each signed a three-year contract worth close to $30 million.

The best comparable is Wandy Rodriguez. He finished his fifth year of service time last year, a year that saw him make $5 million after a four-win season, which followed a $2.6 million season that was sparked by a 2.6 win season. Rodriguez posted a 3.6 win season last year, and at the age of 32, with one more year of team control, signed a three-year, $34 million deal.

The Mariners have a very tough decision to make with Jason Vargas, and on smell test alone, he doesn’t seem to meet the $10-plus million per year price tag. So if the Mariners want to extend Vargas ever, they should do it this season or offseason, otherwise, they’ll be paying a premium for highly debatable value.



North and South of Royal Brougham offers articles like this, as well as articles about things like:


Michael Pineda’s need for a nickname

The Seattle Sounders

The Seattle Seahawks Quarterback situation

Gary Payton’s Love for Seattle

and last but not least

Nate Robinson’s tweets, and how Seattle fans should receive them

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Felix Hernandez Wins Cy Young: Effects on Seattle Mariners’ Financial Future

Now that all arguments are over and Felix Hernandez has been named the American League Cy Young Award winner (All hail King Felix!), it’s time to look at what the award could mean for the Seattle Mariners in the long run.

After getting fired, Rick Adair likely lost the opportunity to become the most famous pitching coach this side of Dave Duncan.

Duncan is the St. Louis Cardinals pitching coach who has overseen Chris Carpenter’s Cy Young victory and Adam Wainwright’s 2010 runner-up in the award. Not to mention he watched Carpenter and Wainwright battle it out for second and third place respectively in 2009, likely handing the award to Tim Lincecum.

Duncan has also resurrected the careers of Joel Pineiro, Jake Westbrook, Jason Marquis and Kyle Lohse, among others.

While observed positive results pitching in Safeco Field would make philosophical sense as part of the criteria for future free agent signings, at least in terms of receiving preference or ideally a discount, it hasn’t come to fruition in San Diego, which has both a pitcher-friendly park and was the one-time home of 2007 Cy Young winner Jake Peavy.

The most important and most certain issue would seem to be the financial component of Hernandez’s future. While his price tag is controlled for the next four seasons, according to Cot’s, by winning the 2010 Cy Young Award Hernandez has increased the total value of his contract by $2.5 million—certainly not crippling, but far from insignificant.

But the more important financial concern is when the Mariners are faced with the possibility of losing Hernandez yet again. After the 2014 season Hernandez has the opportunity to become a free agent, so while the five-year contract Felix signed last offseason brought some relief to Mariners fans, it will likely prove to be short-lived. However, this time around the price will be much higher.

Apart from Felix Hernandez, there are only 10 active Cy Young Award winners (excluding Pedro Martinez, because his age and semi-active status make him irrelevant to this discussion). Of those guys, only three have reached free agency and signed a contract: CC Sabathia, Johan Santana and Barry Zito (Cliff Lee and Brandon Webb are both free agents but have yet to sign).

None of those players re-signed with their team, and Zito’s seven-year, $126 million contract comes in as the lowest by far.

Zack Greinke and Peavy both won the award amidst their first signed extension with their original teams. Peavy was traded to the White Sox, and Greinke figures to be the subject of trade rumors this offseason, as the Royals have publicly said they’d listen to offers for their ace.

Both of those teams have more significant budget constraints than the Mariners, but perhaps Peavy’s situation represents something of a best-case scenario for the Mariners.

Following Peavy’s 2007 Cy Young Award victory, the Padres signed Peavy to another extension. This one came two years before his original extension ended and essentially traded two years of injury uncertainty for three more years at a perceived discounted rate.

While Peavy’s performance in 2010, the first active salary year of the extension, was hardly worth the $15 million he was paid, it’s important to ignore results-based analysis when creating a model for Hernandez’s next contract.

During a period of relative economic strength, Peavy signed a contract in 2007 worth more than 300 percent of his 2007 salary in its first year (2010) and about 188 percent of the final year of his extension at the time. For Hernandez, those numbers come out to between about $22.75 million and $37.5 million for the first-year salary of a potential extension.

In the present economic climate, somewhere on the lower half of the middle seems more likely. The truth is that there are simply less free agent dollars out there, and fewer years in which to receive those dollars are available as well.

So while FanGraphs’ WAR-based player values have shown Hernandez to be worth upwards of $55.5 million in past seasons, the present and future economic climate may prove that value to be irrelevant.

You see, present free agent dollars and WAR are still being calculated based on contracts signed before the recession, and if things keep up as they have, I’d imagine we could see a 20 percent decrease in the value of wins above replacement level.

With the Yankees and Red Sox presently boasting multiple eight-digit salaries in their rotations, signed through well into Hernandez’s next likely contract, the price tag of Hernandez may be driven down further.

Assuming Hernandez stays healthy and productive, the Mariners may have the opportunity to bring him in at a relative discount compared to his present extension and historical precedent, but either way, having the Cy Young Award likely means he’ll take up at least 20 percent of the team’s payroll.

However, if Felix is as good as many think he will be, and the market continues to adjust as many, including myself, think it will, this may be the least detrimental career accolade, in terms of team payroll, in the history of baseball.

Seattle Mariners top prospects


To see 20 guys that didn’t make the cut, click here.

For “Fixing the 2011 Seattle Mariners” profiles, check out the following:

Ted LillyRamon HernandezMichael SaundersColby RasmusAdam DunnChone FigginsDustin AckleyFelipe LopezWilly Aybar, Jack/Josh WilsonYu Darvish

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Seattle Mariners Top 20 Prospects: 15-11

In the second installment of the Mariners top 20 prospects we see two guys drafted in 2010 who have taken very different paths to the majors. This article is out much later than intended, but the passing of Dave Niehaus deservedly shook up the list of priorities for Seattle writers. However, here it is; enjoy.


15. Jabari Blash, OF, R/R, 20 years old

2010 Minor League Stats: .266/.362/.477, 5 HR, 6 2B

A lot of Mariners fans are excited about Blash. At 6’5″ and around 200 lbs, and already hitting the ball hard, Blash figures to be a guy who can develop into a power hitter, even if his performance in college doesn’t back it up. Drafted in 2010, Blash had a very impressive debut in Rookie ball.

Blash is considered very athletic, and though he’s considered a raw prospect, he’s pretty refined considering he just started playing baseball in high school. Blash’s five home runs and 12 total extra base hits in 32 games seem to show that his transition from metal to wood bats will be successful. Blash will have to make sure he doesn’t get too big in his frame, because while his defense is considered to be above average now, losing a few steps after a presumed weight gain would be detrimental to his prospect status. With a strong arm, above average defense, and a bat that could rate as very good, Blash is an interesting piece to the Mariners future.

2011 Estimated Level: A

MLB ETA: 2014


14. Johermyn Chavez, OF, R/R,  21 years old

2010 Minor League Stats: .315/.387/.577, 32 HR, 30 2B

Along with Brandon League, Chavez was traded to the Mariners in exchange for Brandon Morrow. Billed at the time as an essential equivalent Greg Halman, a huge year in Adelanto, California with the High Desert Mavericks, the Mariners Advanced A ball affiliate, has changed that to an extent.

High Desert players frequently post much higher extra-base hit rates because of the thin air and heat combination in Adelanto, but many good Mariners players have come through the affiliate. Either way, Chavez’s stock, even in a potential trade, is undoubtedly up, but Jack Zduriencik hasn’t appeared to make a lot of moves strictly with eyes on trading a player later. However, Chavez struck out less often and walked more often this year to go along with his power, which is a promising, perhaps sustainable sign.

2011 Estimated Level: AA

MLB ETA: 2013


13. Rich Poythress, 1B/DH, R/R, 22 years old

2010 Minor League Stats: .315/.381/.580, 31 HR, 33 2B

Just like Chavez, Poythress benefitted greatly from the environment at Advanced A ball High Desert. There was no doubting Poythress’ power potential but he had a long swing, and like Blash, there were questions about his transition from metal to wood bats.

With Justin Smoak in place at first base, Poythress stock is ultimately much more volatile than some other Mariners prospects, because he has no defensive position at the big league level (or Smoak doesn’t, but at this point it appears that Smoak will be a better defensive first baseman). So while Poythress is an impressive prospect from an offensive perspective, he must be the best position-blocked hitting prospect in the Mariners system to get the DH job in the bigs. If his bat doesn’t play, and play well, his peak is likely the smaller part of a righty-lefty platoon at either DH or first base.

Estimated 2011 Level: AA

MLB ETA: 2012


12. Carlos Triunfel, SS/2b/3b, R/R, 20 years old

2010 Minor League Stats: .256/.286/.332, 7 HR, 12 2B, 2 SB, 8 CS

Triunfel is a guy whose 2011 is vitally important to his prospect status. After a 2008 that saw him post a minus-20 RAR rating according to Total Zone, Triunfel broke his leg early in the 2009 season and missed the vast majority of the year.

He came back in 2010, and while the Total Zone numbers aren’t out for 2010 yet, and errors are an incomplete metric by which to judge defense, Triunfel’s 31 errors at shortstop at West Tennessee are hardly encouraging. While it is hard to give up on a player at age 21 (which he’ll be next season), Triunfel has shown no signs of progress, and with his speed robbed by his 2009 injury, the chances of him remaining at shortstop are minimal, and his bat may not play elsewhere.

Estimated 2011 Level: AA

MLB ETA: 2014


11. James Paxton, LHP, 21 years old

2010 Minor League Stats: (Independent) 17 IP, 9.17 K/9, 3.57 BB/9

This is admittedly an aggressive rating for Paxton. First of all, he isn’t even signed with the team yet after being drafted in the 2010 draft. Also, Paxton missed his senior year in college after being drafted in last year’s draft, and using Scott Boras in his failed negotiations with the Toronto Blue Jays. He was ruled ineligible by the NCAA, and ended up playing his 2010 season with the Independent League Grand Prairie Airhogs.

If we buy into the idea that Paxton can return to his mid-90s velocity from college—as he worked in the high-80s and low-90s this year—the rest of his issues as a pitcher should be aided by Safeco Field. Paxton gave up 11 home runs in his junior year, which should be partially aided by the transition from metal to wood bats used by his opponents, and also by the same logic that has led to relative success for Jarrod Washburn and Jason Vargas.

I think that Paxton will remain a starter, and that his command issues have been overblown by his struggles against metal bats. He only gave up one home run in the independent league. Also, he figures to be a guy who—with two good pitches—can make a quick ascent to the major leagues provided that he signs early enough.

Estimated 2011 Level: AA

MLB ETA: 2012



Prospects: 20-16

To see 20 guys that didn’t make the cut, click here.

For Fixing the 2011 Seattle Mariners profiles, check out the following:

Ted LillyRamon HernandezMichael SaundersColby RasmusAdam DunnChone FigginsDustin AckleyFelipe LopezWilly Aybar, Jack/Josh WilsonYu Darvish

Read more MLB news on

Dave Neihaus: The Death of a Seattle Mariners Icon

The world has lost an icon. After 34 years of being a radio and television announcer for the Mariners, all 34 years of the team’s existence, Dave Niehaus has died at the age of 75.

At the risk of sounding insensitive, I truly believe that the only way that Niehaus would have ever left the booth was with the suddenness, and route he ended up leaving it. Niehaus’ love for baseball transferred to several fans, including myself, and while there is no palatable exit for Niehaus in the eyes of the true fan, perhaps this one is the easiest to deal with.

Because you see, lifelong Mariner fans have known no Mariners baseball without Niehaus. He’s been there since the beginning.

He saw Diego Segui pitch the first game in Seattle Mariners history. He watched Segui go 0-7 in his one year with the Mariners, the last year of his career at age 39. He watched Segui’s son David play first base for the Mariners years later.

He saw Ken Griffey Jr. make his major league debut. He watched Junior and his dad, Ken Griffey Sr., hit home runs back-to-back, in a season that would hold several firsts for fathers and sons playing together. He’d see Junior hit 399 home runs, and bolt for Cincinnati.

And he watched “The Kid” return to Seattle a man. 

He watched A-Rod, the Big Unit, ‘Gar, Bone, Dan the Man, and several other good or great Mariners who weren’t fortunate enough to receive nicknames from the Hall of Fame announcer.

More than anything though, Niehaus saw a lot of crappy baseball.

But he never left. He never grew disinterested, or if he did, he didn’t let you know. Did he grow disappointed with the team? Sure, but you could tune into any game, during any season, and fill your speakers with  genuine emotion, often sorrow, that Niehaus was able to spin that into an entertaining product night in and night out.

While great late-night talk show hosts are able to spend each night using comedy to lessen the affects of life’s ills, and morning show hosts are able to poke fun at the country’s problems, Niehaus’ arena, and his topic of conversation more-often-than not was a depressingly bad baseball team.

But Neihaus remained in Seattle for the duration of his career, and remained an ambassador for the northwest for the remaining duration of his life.

And on October 3, 2010 Dave Neihaus called his last game. He watched Anthony Varvaro, a 25-year-old making his fourth career Major League appearance, take the first loss of his career.

It seems sad that Niehaus’ last season was one that saw the Mariners finish with yet another last-place finish in the American League West. However, if it would have been fitting for Ken Griffey Jr.’s last at-bat to be a home run, or Randy Johnson’s last batter faced to have been a strikeout, Dave Niehaus’ home run was taking awful baseball and turning it into spun gold.

Every place I’ve ever worked I’ve been “the sports guy.” Looking to lay a bet and need advice on who to bet on? Looking for fantasy football advice? Want to talk about the gem last night’s starter started? I’m your guy. As such, I’ve begun to notice that the scope of a sports tragedy is defined by the spectrum of people who come at talk to me about it.

When men from Boston, California, Texas, and Minnesota are talking about the death of a local hero, I know that his reach has gone far beyond local.

Dave Niehaus, you were the soundtrack to my childhood, the master of ceremonies to my upbringing, and the narrator to my wildest dreams, however unfulfilled. You’ll be forever missed, and while baseball will go on without you, it will never be the same. Rest in peace Dave, from one of the many lives you didn’t know you touched.

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Seattle Mariners Top 20 Prospects: 16-20

The Mariners have a lot of talent in their farm system, much of which has been acquired by Jack Zduriencik, or had their development tweaked for the better by the present regime. Last week, I detailed 20 guys that didn’t quite make the cut for the Mariners top 20 prospects, and in this installment, we look at prospects 20-16.

20. Anthony Varvaro, RHP, 25 years old

2010 Minor League Stats: 65 IP, 4.02 ERA, 10.0 K/9, 4.8 BB/9

Varvaro is a prospect who has been in the Mariners’ system since 2006, and has had a very up-and-down career in terms of prospect status. Varvaro was originally slated as a starting pitching prospect, but after an ineffective 2008 at High Desert, Varvaro was sent to the bullpen.

The transition has worked well for Varvaro, who has averaged 10+ K/9 in each of the two seasons he’s been a reliever. Like many starters-turned-relievers, Varvaro battles his own command and control from time to time. At nearly five walks per nine innings, Varvaro’s strikeouts will have to translate to the majors for him to be successful.

He’s probably an adequate middle-reliever in the bigs, though his history of higher pitch counts certainly lends to flexibility for the 25-year-old right-hander.

Estimated 2011 Level: AAA

MLB ETA: Mid-2011

19. Mike Carp, 1B, L/R, 24 years old

2010 Minor League Stats: .257/.328/.516, 29 home runs, 17 doubles

Carp was a part of the J.J. Putz trade that brought Franklin Gutierrez and Jason Vargas to Seattle also. Though Carp hasn’t been universally panned in prospect circles, he’s never profiled as a guy who would have an enormously productive major league career at the plate.

However, Carp showed some pretty significant improvement in 2009, as he sacrificed doubles for home runs without striking out much more often. A .259 BABIP is basically entirely responsible for his lower batting average in 2010, as he’s generally sat around the .300 in the minors so far. His .110 ISO in 106 MLB plate appearances is uninspiring, and could potentially represent a true talent level despite a small sample size, as Carp’s power has been limited in the minors until this year.

If Carp’s bat is truly developing, he could make an interesting platoon partner at DH, or first base if Justin Smoak doesn’t pan out. But an average defending, average hitting first basemen isn’t particularly useful on a team lacking power.

Estimated 2011 Level: AAA

MLB ETA: 2012

18. Greg Halman, OF, R/R, 22 years old

2010 Minor League Stats: .243/.310/.545, 33 home runs, 21 doubles, 4 triples

Halman is a very polarizing prospect among Mariners fans. If one were selling baseball action figures without stats to accompany their physical credentials, Halman would be a great choice to design them after.

However, despite looking the part of a top prospect, Halman has some enormously glaring weaknesses.

Halman has power that even Safeco Field can’t hold, but he also has really struggled to make consistent contact. Halman, however, isn’t a “three true outcomes” kind of guy, as his walk rates aren’t high enough to support a strikeout rate which has hovered at almost exactly 40 percent for the past two seasons.

A tremendous all-around athlete, Halman projects as a guy who could play plus defense in the pros, and his total zone rating in the minors has him at about average in center, well above in right, and about average in left field.

Ultimately, Halman will have to figure out how to make more consistent contact to have a long big league career, but for now, he’s simply an undisciplined hitter with massive, unfulfilled potential.

2011 Estimated Level: AAA

MLB ETA: 2013

17. Gabriel Noriega, SS, B/R, 19 years old

2010 Minor League Stats: .227/.280/.283, 15 doubles, 28.9 K%

Noriega received some serious attention after a strong 2009. In his second run at Rookie ball, he improved his numbers almost across the board. An aggressive promotion to A ball in 2010, and a return-to-earth for Noriega’s BABIP (.417 in 2009), have really indicated that Noriega’s offense isn’t quite as promising as we may have thought going into 2010.

However, Noriega’s frame lends itself to growth, and power potential. And at 6-foot-2, Noriega may fit the mid-90’s paradigm for offense-first shortstops, but unlike Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra or Miguel Tejada, Noriega is a switch hitter. Also, his defense should let him stay at shortstop for a long time, while only Jeter remains, or has remained at the position his whole career.

Also, Noriega was two years younger than the league-average A-ball player. If Nick Franklin receives a promotion from AA to AAA or the Majors, Noriega’s numbers will likely represent true talent, but Noriega seems like an ideal candidate to have inflated numbers at A+ High Desert.

Estimated 2011 Level: A+

MLB ETA: 2014

16. Joshua Fields, RHP, 24 years old

2010 Minor League Stats: 28.2 IP, 28 K, 18 BB, 0 HR Allowed

Fields represents the last draft-blunder of Bill Bavasi’s much maligned career. Fields was the Mariners top pick in 2008, and didn’t sign until mid-2009. With two small samples so far to his credit, Fields has put up good peripherals, but inconsistent results. His 3.14 ERA in 2010 is promising, but he seemed unlucky in 2009, posting a 6.48 ERA despite a 3.89 FIP.

Fields may have a hard time becoming the Mariners future closer, as guys like Dan Cortes, Brandon League, and David Aardsma probably hold spots much higher on the depth chart. However, if Fields proves that he can actually succeed in a late-inning, high-leverage role, he may make nice trade fodder.

Maybe Fields best comparison is Chris Perez, once a St. Louis Cardinals farmhand who was traded for Mark DeRosa at the height of DeRosa’s value. Perez has had considerable success in his two years with the Cleveland Indians, and strikes out about a batter an inning.

Even if Fields isn’t attractive in a trade, having a polished late inning reliever with two plus pitches holds some value for the Mariners in the future, even if only in future negotiations with the latter three relievers. If Fields becomes one of the three top relievers in the Mariners organization expendable, he’ll have equaled Perez’s value.


To see 20 guys that didn’t make the cut, click here.

For Fixing the 2011 Seattle Mariners profiles, check out the following:

Ted LillyRamon HernandezMichael SaundersColby RasmusAdam DunnChone FigginsDustin AckleyFelipe LopezWilly Aybar, Jack/Josh WilsonYu Darvish

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Seattle Mariners Hire Manager: We Don’t Know About Eric Wedge

One of the major themes of the Seattle blogosphere this offseason, at least as it pertains to any potential managerial hiring, is quite simply that we don’t have enough information as fans to form a quantitative opinion of the guy they hired.

The Mariners hired Eric Wedge to be their new manager, and the move was met with a mass consensus of indifference among Mariners fans.

I’d be willing to bet that only Wedge’s close relatives are sitting at home going “Hell Yeah! Eric Wedge is the Mariners new manager!” By the same rationale, there are likely very few fans contemplating jumping off the Narrows ridge as a result of Wedge being put in charge of their favorite ballclub.

As fans, we have a very limited arsenal for evaluation of managers, in reality. While many sabermetricians may break down win probably gains compared to probability risked based on in-game strategic decisions, typical perception is that managing a baseball team requires a lot more than sound sacrifice bunt strategy.

So what do we know about Wedge?

He’s got a near-.500 record (slightly below), managed one of the most physically talented young teams in baseball through the mid-2000s, and came within a game of the World Series in 2007.

Wedge oversaw the development of guys like Grady Sizemore, Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-Shoo Choo, Travis Hafner, Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia, Fausto Carmona, Victor Martinez and countless other once-or-current Indians farmhands.

Many of those guys he managed at multiple levels, as Wedge got his start coaching in the Indians farm system.

We know that in the year since Wedge left, the Indians have been pretty awful. We also know that in 2008 and 2009, the team dealt two consecutive former Cy Young Award winners.

So, how much credit do we give Wedge for those players development? How much do we give him credit for their continued success? How much do we blame him for their failures?

The real answer is that we don’t know.

We do know that Milton Bradley hasn’t always had the highest opinion of Eric Wedge; we also know that Milton Bradley has made himself look like quite the asshole on several occasions. And we know that both of them are saying the right things right now.

We also know that at his press conference, Eric Wedge looked like a door to door vacuum salesman who moonlights at your local dive bar hitting on girls half his age.

We know that Eric Wedge was a catcher during his playing career, as was Don Wakamatsu, as were Mike Sciocia, Joe Torre, and Joe Girardi.

Catchers, by virtue of their involvement of so many aspects of the game are often regarded highly as managerial candidates; we also know that Lou Piniella was an outfielder, Terry Francona was a first baseman, and Ozzie Guillen played shortstop.

We also know that apart from Wedge and Wakamatsu, every one of those managers has won a World Series.

We know that former Indians general manager Mark Shapiro came out in support of the Mariners hiring of Wedge. We also know that Shapiro fired Wedge.

Wedge isn’t Wakamatsu, we know that. We don’t know if he will yield better results as a manager either.

We know that there is a common perception that Wakamatsu’s handling of Ken Griffey Jr. led to some discontent in the Mariners locker room, but we don’t know how much better Wedge’s managing style will gel with Mariners players or how it will manifest itself into results.

One thing that we can have faith in, however, is that Jack Zduriencik is adaptable when it comes to personnel acquisition.

He seemed enamored with high level physical tools at the plate and on the mound in Milwaukee. Zduriencik drafted several players with high-90s fastballs and off-the-charts power.

In Seattle, when building a team for Safeco Field and Wakamatsu, Zduriencik acquired good defensive players and finesse left-handed pitchers who could use the cavernous ballpark to their advantage.

Wedge had a ton of talent at his disposal when he was successful in Cleveland, and he hasn’t managed anywhere else. We don’t know what was really at work when Cleveland had its success under Wedge, but we know that his boss will work to give him a deep arsenal.

If Eric Wedge is in fact a good manager, he’ll have success in Seattle. If he’s a bad-mediocre manager and the Mariners young prospects are as talented as we think, Wedge may still have success in Seattle.

But until he steps into the dugout in 2011, we won’t really know.

Fixing the 2011 Mariners player profiles:

Ted LillyRamon HernandezMichael SaundersColby RasmusAdam DunnChone FigginsDustin AckleyFelipe LopezWilly Aybar, Jack/Josh WilsonYu Darvish

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Fixing the 2011 Seattle Mariners: Yu Darvish

Though it appears that the Mariners will go into the 2011 season with a static or decreased payroll compared to 2010, there has been a widely-accepted theory that their budgetary constraints are less strict when it comes to signing Japanese players.

Some of this may have changed when Hiroshi Yamauchi sold his shares of the Mariners in 2004, as the team hasn’t gone to extravagant lengths to sign a Japanese player since signing Ichiro in 2001, and hasn’t signed a Japanese player at all since signing Kenji Johjima in 2006.

However, Yu Darvish is a different kind of talent, and ultimately a different kind of opportunity than signing Johjima was.

It’s not often that Major League clubs have a crack at signing top-level talent from Japan in their early-20s. Last year we saw Junichi Tazawa pitch with the Red Sox, but he was eligible for free agency after asking for, and ultimately receiving a pass from all the teams in the NPB in their amateur draft. In late 2008, he signed a three-year, $3 million deal with the Red Sox.

Tazawa had pitched in the Industrial league in Japan, something akin to the independent leagues in America, and at 22 years old he started his American professional baseball career pitching in Double-A.

At 22 years old (almost 23) Kazuhito Tadano signed with the Cleveland Indians in 2003. Tadano entered the American scene under extremely different circumstances than Tazawa. Rather than requesting that no Japanese team drafted him Tadano went undrafted against his will, with his participation in a pornographic video during his college years as the main culprit for his being overlooked.

Tadano signed for $67,000, with a shoulder injury and the aforementioned sex tape as the driving force behind the bargain price. Tadano is playing in Japan now, though he’s posted two ugly seasons for the Nippon Ham Fighters.

Perhaps the best parallel for Darvish, unsurprisingly, is Daisuke Matsuzaka. Matsuzaka  left Japan after his age 25 season, and after an enormous $51.1 million posting fee that the Red Sox paid to the Seibu Lions, they then inked Matsuzaka to a six-year, $52-60 million contract (the latter is with full incentives reached).

Matsuzaka had been utterly dominant in the four seasons that led to his posting, with ERA’s under three and more than a strikeout per inning.

Matsuzaka also impressed in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, pitching against many big leaguers along the way.

However, Matsuzaka’s career in the bigs has been tumultuous to say the least. After not averaging more than three walks per nine innings in the five seasons that led to his transfer stateside, Matsuzaka hasn’t averaged less than three walks per nine innings in a single season in the majors.

Despite no apparent decrease in fastball velocity or command (compared to league average), Matsuzaka has seen his strikeout rate decrease every season since signing with the Red Sox.

One of the problems that Matsuzaka has faced is the apparent variance in strike zone in the majors compared to the Japanese game. The consensus is that the strike zone in Japan is bigger than it is stateside, and that while Matsuzaka made a living pitching on the “corners” in Japan, many of the pitches he’d thrown for called strikes in Japan were called balls in the Major Leagues.

Matsuzaka’s variety of offspeed pitches and corner nibbling style have led to inflated pitch counts, deflated innings counts, and an overall deflated performance in the majors.

Darvish possesses a similar skill set: A low-90s fastball that can reach the mid-90s, several offspeed pitches, and precision command. However, this plot may tell a different story.

It appears that Darvish is willing to challenge hitters with his fastball in the strike zone, and gets groundball outs doing so. However, quite frequently, Darvish threw offspeed pitches for balls in early counts, a main contributor to Matsuzaka’s limited success.

So with this in mind, is there any reason to believe that Darvish will have any more success in the bigs than Matsuzaka?

Age works in Darvish’s favor, as he’ll be entering his age 24 season if he enters MLB next season. Also, Matsuzaka’s enormous price tag may have worked to drive the total asking price for Darvish way down.

While a struggling economy has driven overall free agent dollars down in recent years, many Japan-America transitions have been billed almost completely on past precedent. If teams are worried about a Matsuzaka-like decline after a transition stateside, Darvish may not be as highly sought after Matsuzaka was.

There is speculation that Darvish’s posting fee will be $25 million, and that he’ll seek a five-year deal in America.

More recently than Matsuzaka, Hiroki Kuroda was a top-level Japanese pitcher who brought his services stateside. He was a free agent after spending 10 seasons in Japan (nine seasons in Japan are required before outright free agency is granted). Kuroda signed a three-year, $35.3 million contract.

A $12 million salary over five years would put an expected total price tag of $85 million on Darvish. That would equal the $17 million per season, pre-incentive total for Matsuzaka. However, in some ways using Kuroda’s salary as a model for Darvish’s eventual price tag is a flawed endeavor.

Kuroda was a free agent, which meant that he could hold his own bidding war. While that likely drove his price up, he signed his contract with the Dodgers in 2007, a year before the major signs of economic recession set in.

Kuroda also never dominated NPB like Darvish has. Kuroda was a pitch-to-contact pitcher who had several productive seasons, but only one truly outstanding season (2006). And he was 32 years old when he entered the majors.

By contrast, Darvish is coming off his fourth straight season with an ERA under two, his third season in the last four where he struck out a batter per inning or more, and may be coming off his best season in NPB. He’ll be 24 years old for most of next season, and has been on prospect radar’s since he began his domination of the league in 2007, when he was 20 years old.

However, most heavily contrasting to Kuroda’s situation, Darvish will only be allowed to negotiate a contract with the team that wins the right by bidding highest on his posting.

The Mariners best shot at Darvish is if the bidding war for his posting becomes a battle of attrition. We recently saw Stephen Strasburg, perhaps the greatest pitching prospect of all time, see his contract expectations dip from an insane $50 million, and ultimately end up at a little over $15 million.

There’s no chance that the Mariners, or any other team for that matter, get Darvish for less than the $15 Million that Strasburg received. His posting fee alone, even if it comes in below the expected $25 million figure, will likely surpass Strasburg’s contract.

Also, Darvish made the equivalent to about $4 million in Japan this season, so in order to get Darvish into a Major League uniform, an MLB team would certainly have to give him a pretty hefty increase on that number.

But the increase comes with a sample set of over 1,000 innings of production against high-level competition to justify it.

In financially-cautious time for baseball, teams are even more likely to include the posting fee in total cost analysis of a player. So if we use $25 million as the posting fee, and an $8 million salary as a model, a five-year contract with the posting fee would come in at $65 million over five years.

In this scenario, the signing team would commit essentially $13 million per season to Darvish, and have an additional year of team control after the contract was completed, meaning they’d have a full year to negotiate a second contract or engineer a trade while Darvish played under his final year of arbitration. Darvish could hit free agency at age 30.

If we use Matsuzaka’s success in the majors as a midline, it’s pretty easy to justify $65 million for Darvish over five years. Despite his struggles, according to Fangraphs, Matsuzaka has been worth $42.9 million in four seasons in the big leagues. If we use his strike-throwing counterpart Kuroda as a moderate ceiling, things look even brighter, as Kuroda has been worth $42.4 million in three seasons.

If the price is right, Darvish is a special talent, and the second-best pitcher available this offseason (behind Cliff Lee, and excluding possible trades). However, if the price tag on Darvish reaches “Matsuzaka money,” the Mariners are better off spending their money elsewhere.

If the Mariners are truly a team that values long-term process over immediate results, then pursuing, and potentially signing Darvish is simply a matter of dollars and sense.

Other Fixing the 2011 Seattle Mariners profiles:

Ted LillyRamon HernandezMichael SaundersColby RasmusAdam DunnChone FigginsDustin AckleyFelipe LopezWilly Aybar, Jack/Josh Wilson

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Fixing the 2011 Seattle Mariners: Jack/Josh Wilson

The shortstop position is one that the Mariners have been trying to patch since Alex Rodriguez left Seattle following the 2000 season.

They used Carlos Guillen there in 2001, but his relationship with then-ace Freddy Garcia appeared to be damaging to the pitcher in the eyes of the front office, and he was sent packing to Detroit in 2003.

They signed Rich Aurilia in 2004; he was supposed to be the answer after coming off of a handful of productive seasons in San Francisco, but flamed out quickly posting a .641 OPS in 292 plate appearances with Seattle and was traded to the Padres later that season.

Then in 2005, the Mariners began what would be a tumultuous Mariners career for Yuniesky Betancourt. Betancourt showed some impressive skills with his glove, making some very difficult plays on occasion but seemed to struggle very frequently with routine plays and had major lapses in concentration. According to UZR/150, Betancourt’s defensive production began at about league average and steadily declined until he was traded in 2009.

After his departure, Betancourt’s then-vacated position was filled by Ronny Cedeno. Later, Cedeno would be traded to the Pirates in a trade that would bring Jack Wilson to Seattle, and he and Josh Wilson would combine to finish the season at shortstop.

This year, the Mariners boasted the latter duo as their answer at the shortstop position. They assumed they’d need the former Wilson, Josh, because Jack was injury prone.

Knowing that, they’d signed Jack to a two-year, $10 million extension. They figured that Jack’s elite defense, while missing some games, combined with Josh’s near-average defense at short to fill in the gaps was worth the money.

Jack’s season went about as poorly as it could have: He posted a wRC+ of 62, with a -2.8 UZR/150 at shortstop in 61 games; he battled a hamstring injury earlier in the season, an ailment he’s dealt with throughout his career, but ultimately ended his season after fracturing his fifth metacarpal after “slipping in the shower.”

Josh hasn’t been much better, just healthier. In 101 games, he’s had a wRC+ of 72 and a UZR/150 of 5.0 at shortstop this season. He’s been worth a half win above replacement, riding strongly on the positional adjustment for shortstops.

So going into 2011, the Mariners will have a shortstop making $5 million (Jack) who will have missed almost half of the games his teams have played in the last three seasons, and a shortstop (Josh) who has played his career, which has totaled 880 plate appearances to this point, at a level slightly below replacement level.

The Mariners likely can’t trade Jack, as his value hasn’t matched his salary since 2007, and he’s coming off of an injury shortened season.

So while the Mariners could easily upgrade over Jack offensively, it may not be cost-effective to do so via free agency.

If Wilson would have qualified for the batting title this year, he’d have been the shortstop with the second-lowest wOBA in all of baseball (ahead of only Cesar Izturis). Josh would rank ahead of only Izturis and Alcides Escobar.

A few months ago, it looked like J.J. Hardy was almost sure to be non-tendered by the Minnesota Twins. After coming over to the Twins in an offseason trade, and eventually signing a $5.1 million pact for 2010, avoiding arbitration, Hardy struggled to start the 2010 season. He wRC+’s of 78, 64, and -34 in the first three months of the season (only four games in June).

However, in part due to a regression to mean of Hardy’s BABIP and a shift in his batted ball profile, Hardy came back big in July, posting a wRC+ of 142. He stumbled a little in August, posting an 85 wRC+, but has responded with a 126 wRC+ in September so far.

Combined with a league transition, it’s easy to rationalize that this recent version of Hardy is a fixed version, and that the improvement should carry over into 2011.

Unfortunately for the Mariners, that greatly decreases the chances that he’ll be available in free agency this offseason.

Apart from Derek Jeter, who will likely remain with the Yankees, the rest of the free agent class of shortstops seem to possess their own set of fatal flaws: be they offensive production, poor defense, or age.

So unless the team takes a look at Felipe Lopez, who is likely best equipped defensively to play either second or third base but would be a valuable bat to occasionally plug in at shortstop, they may be best off attempting to solve their shortstop woes either internally or with unproven, undervalued prospects from somebody else’s farm system.

The team presently has Nick Franklin, who will rank very highly on prospect lists next year, who is a switch-hitting (probably eventually lefty only) shortstop who was drafted, at least in part, because of his defensive ability. Franklin absolutely torched the Midwest League this season to the tune of a .283/.354/.486 slash line.

He’ll be only 20 years old next year though, and A ball to the bigs is a pretty big jump. Look for Franklin to start the year in AA or AAA next year.

Carlos Triunfel has long been among Seattle’s top prospects. However, a transition to second or third base is likely for the formerly highly-touted prospect, and his expected power has never materialized into production.

While a hot spring and a few hot games for Matt Tuiasosopo have made some believe that he should be receiving more playing time, the reality is that Tuiasosopo simply isn’t a shortstop. While two errors in 28 innings at shortstop in the pros certainly hurt Tuiasosopo’s UZR rating, a -23.3 is hardly different than what one could expect from the shortstop turned utility man.

The Tacoma Rainiers had a revolving door at shortstop this season, and without a valid option close to the majors, the Mariners may need to look outside the organization to fill the position, be it free agency or via trade.

Other Fixing the 2011 Seattle Mariners profiles

Ted Lilly

Ramon Hernandez

Michael Saunders

Colby Rasmus

Adam Dunn

Chone Figgins

Dustin Ackley

Felipe Lopez

Willy Aybar

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