Archive for Seattle Mariners
Just four questions this week, but they’re good ones. We’ll look at where the money for Yu Darvish would be coming from, bad blood between the Yankees and Mariners, an Ivan Nova-Chien-Ming Wang comparison, and comps for Manny Banuelos. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar whenever you send a question in.
Mark asks: In regards to your recent post on Yu Darvish, can you explain how any team, let along the Yankees, can afford to pay a one-time posting fee of $40 million in these current economic times? I always thought the Steinbrenners ran the Yanks at break-even or at a slight loss. Unless MLB allows them to borrow from their YES broadcast subsidiary, I cannot imagine any owner, even the Steinbrenners, having that kind of cash lying around in a liquid investment, but I could be wrong. Or are posting fees paid out over the life of the contract? If not, I wonder why it doesn’t make more sense financially for the Yankees to boost their payroll by say $10-15 million as a way of spreading the wealth around to more players versus just one.
The posting fee is a one-time payment that has to be made when the player signs his contract, so the Red Sox had to cut the Seibu Lions a $51.1M check for Daisuke Matsuzaka back in December of 2006. If the team and the player don’t agree to a deal, like what happened with the A’s and Hisashi Iwakuma this past offseason, then the team doesn’t have to pay the posting fee.
I have no idea what the Yankees’ finances look like, but I’m certain they have $40M+ lying around somewhere to make a payment like that. With a $200M payroll, they’re making ~$17M payments for player salaries twice a month (just salaries, doesn’t not include benefits and non-player personnel), so I’m sure the cash is somewhere in Yankee Global Enterprises. I hear the New Stadium comes equipped with a cash printing press in the basement*, actually. I know I kinda danced around the question but like I said, I haven’t seen their books, but I have to think there’s $40M on reserve somewhere, likely much more than that.
* This may or may not be true.
Elliot asks: While this is very speculative, do you think that Jack Zduriencik getting a two-year extension with the Mariners hurts the Yankees ability to trade for King Felix? Do you think there is still bad blood between Cashman and him because of the failed Cliff Lee Negotiations?
Felix Hernandez is not getting traded anytime soon, with or without Zduriencik’s extension. He’s only 25 and is under contract for four more years (three more after this season), he’s absolutely going to be part of the next winning Mariners team. They’re not some small-market outfit, they have tons of cash to throw around and a pretty strong young core with Felix, Michael Pineda, Justin Smoak, and Dustin Ackley. They could turn that team around in a year.
As for possible bad blood, yeah I do think there is some, but I don’t think it’s enough to get in the way of a potential Felix trade. He’s a very special case. When it comes to bit pieces though, a spare reliever or a bench bat, then forget it, you can find that stuff anywhere. Zduriencik did what he felt was best for his team, but I have to believe he burned some bridges with that maneuver. I’m sure other teams noticed too.
Mark asks: Do you think Ivan Nova compares favorably to Chien-Ming Wang at this point of his career?
Yes, I do think Nova now is better than Wang then, but they are different pitchers. Yeah, both rely on ground balls, but Wang relied on them to the extreme, I mean he never struck anyone out (3.3 K/9 from 2005-2006) and was regularly over 60% grounders before his foot and shoulder gave out. Nova is more of a 50-55% ground ball guy with 5.5 K/9 or so, and I’d happily trade about ten percentage points of ground balls for one extra strikeout every four innings. Wang was also a year older than Nova is now when he debuted, and although it doesn’t sound like much, but it’s not insignificant.
I will say this, Wang generated more consistently weak contact than I can remember ever seeing out of one pitcher. The history of baseball says it should not have worked for a guy allowing that many balls to be put into play (especially for a team as defensively awful as the 2005-2007 Yankees, man were they terrible with the glove), but it did because he never seemed to let the ball out of the infield. Wang was a 3.60-4.00 ERA guy before getting hurt, and that’s pretty much what I think Nova can be most years, with a little more at his peak.
Patrick asks: Who’s a good comparison for Manny Banuelos? I’d love to say Johan Santana but that’s unfair. What about Ricky Romero?
This question was sent in just a few minutes after Sweeny Murti said a scout dropped a Romero comp on Banuelos, and I’m guessing that’s not an accident. Looking strictly at the whole low-to-mid-90′s fastball/knockout changeup/third pitch curveball thing, then Romero’s a very good comp. The Blue Jays ace uses a two-seamer as well, plus he’s an inch or two taller than the Yankees young southpaw, but otherwise it fits. Of course when Romero was Banuelos’ age, he was a sophomore at Cal State Fullerton, a year away from being drafted (sixth overall in 2005), and four years away from making his big league debut. The two have had very, very different development paths.
Johan’s third pitch was always a slider, and plus his changeup was one of the best we’ll ever see. That’s an unfair comparison to slap on anyone, nevermind just Banuelos. Cole Hamels, Jaime Garcia, and John Danks are also fastball-change-curve, but all three of those guys have added cutters in recent years and are a few inches taller as well. They’re better comps than Santana, but still not perfect. Jeff Francis, Jason Vargas, and Mark Buehrle have the same repertoire, but none of them throw as hard as Banuelos.
That Romero/Hamels/Garcia/Danks group is pretty damn good, and I’m sure the Yankees would be absolutely thrilled if Banuelos develops into any one of them. They’re all well-above-average starters with strikeout stuff, and with the exception of Garcia (who’s in just his second full year as a big leaguer), they’ve shown the ability to stay healthy and eat up innings year after year. Getting that kind of value from Banuelos would be a major player development win.
Via Mark Feinsand, the Yankees have claimed lefty Aaron Laffey off waivers from the Mariners. Gustavo Molina has been designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster. Laffey will join the team in Minnesota tomorrow, which is kinda interesting.
I wrote about Laffey yesterday, suggesting the Yankees should claim him off waivers so he can be the second lefty out of the pen. He won’t be a shutdown southpaw, but he’s a better backup option than Raul Valdes or Steve Garrison. As an added bonus, Laffey is under team control through 2014 and has a minor league option remaining for next year. Solid move, improving on the margins.
This one has trap series written all over it folks, and I’ll explain why in a second. The Yankees and Mariners have met once before this season, in Seattle back at the end of May. The Yankees lost two of three but had leads in all three games, they just couldn’t close things out.
What Have The Mariners Done Lately?
Losing. Lots and lots of losing. As in a franchise-record 15 losses in a row. Seriously. The Mariners haven’t won a game since July 5th, when they beat the Athletics 4-2. They’ve been outscored 87-40 during the losing streak, and eight of those 40 runs came yesterday. All told, the Mariners are 43-58 with a -50 run differential, the third worst record and run differential in the AL. It seems inevitable that they’ll end that ugly losing streak in the Bronx, if not win the series.
Mariners On Offense
Seattle scored just 513 runs last season, the worst run production in the DH era. They’re on pace for 533 this season, so I guess that’s improvement. For comparison’s sake, the Yankees have already scored 513 runs on the season. Think about that. The Mariners are hitting .226/.289/.334 with a .279 wOBA as a team, MLB worsts in everything but SLG. They’re one point ahead of the Padres in that department.
It all starts at the top, where Ichiro Suzuki is going through the same kind of painful-to-watch age-related decline as Derek Jeter. He went 2-for-5 yesterday and that raised his season line to .268/.315/.318. Brutal. Brendan Ryan was a pain the last two times these two clubs met, and he’s hitting .264/.324/.342 as the regular two-hitter. He did go 2-for-4 yesterday and is on a nice little .305/.362/.436 tear over the last 30 days though. Dustin Ackley was called up a little more than a month ago and has already emerged as the team’s best hitter. He’s up to .297/.347/.505 on the season following yesterday’s 2-for-5. Everything kinda goes downhill from there.
When these two clubs met in May, Justin Smoak was at .263/.365/.461 on the season and making the Mariners looking very smart for taking him over Jesus Montero last July. He’s hitting just .190/.278/.341 since then, and we’re talking about 205 plate appearances. That’s dragged Smoak’s season line down to .244/.319/.396. Miguel Olivo has been hitting cleanup with his .223/.260/.395 batting line, and both Adam Kennedy (.251/.297/.382) and Jack Cust (.214/.347/.332) are getting regular at-bats. Franklin Gutierrez catches everything hit in the air and between the lines, but he’s all the way down to .192/.230/.231. Mike Carp (.263/.344/.439 in limited action) is now the regular left fielder, but it’s just 64 PA. That’s their regular lineup, though Chone Figgins (.182/.236/.240), Greg Halman (.256/.284/.385), Jack Wilson (.229/.259/.252), and Josh Bard (.222/.243/.417) almost might make appearances. It’s an ugly offense, as ugly as it gets.
Mariners On The Mound
Monday, LHP Jason Vargas (vs. Freddy Garcia): The Yankees tagged Vargas for six runs in three innings back in May, and he’s coming off back-to-back five-run outings. His 3.94 ERA lines right up with his 3.96 FIP, and his peripheral stats aren’t anything to write home about: 5.80 K/9, 2.35 uIBB/9, and 37.3% grounders. Vargas throws four pitches regularly but will mix in two others; his high-80′s four and two-seamers set up his low-80′s changeup, and he’ll also throw some mid-80′s cutters. Every once in a while you’ll see a curveball or slider. He doesn’t have much of a platoon split because of the changeup, but Vargas is a fly ball pitcher that doesn’t miss bats. Handedness shouldn’t matter much.
Tuesday, RHP Doug Fister (vs. CC Sabathia): The Yankees drafted Fister once upon a time, back in the sixth round of 2005. He didn’t sign and went back to Fresno State for another year, then the Mariners grabbed him in the seventh round of the 2006 draft. Fister has developed into a very nice starting pitcher in his second full-season, backing up his 3.30 ERA with a 3.19 FIP. His strikeout rate sucks (5.44 K/9), but he’s even stingier with the walks than Vargas (1.88 uIBB/9) and does a much better job of keeping the ball on the ground (45.5%). He gets good downhill plane from his 6-foot-8 frame and pounds the zone with his high-80′s four and two-seamers. A mid-70′s curveball and a mid-80s slider are his go-to secondary offerings, but we’ll also see a low-80′s change on occasion. The Yankees have not faced Fister this season or last, so the only experience they have against him is a pair of starts in 2009 (7 IP, 3 R and 4 IP, 6 R).
Wednesday, RHP Felix Hernandez (vs. Phil Hughes): Long live the king. Felix won the Cy Young Award with a 3.04 FIP and a 3.14 xFIP last season, and this year he’s at 3.11 and 3.11, respectively. Don’t be fooled by the 3.47 ERA, blame that on a low (for him) 72.0% strand rate. It had been north of 76% in the past. His .299 BABIP is also his highest in three years. Hernandez’s peripherals are still as good as it gets (8.43 K/9, 2.73 uIBB/9, 48.9% grounders), and his stuff is world class: mid-90′s with both the four and two-seamers, a high-80′s changeup, a mid-80′s slider, and a low-80′s curve. There are few better than Felix, who has made a habit of wrecking the Yankees in recent years. Yeah, they got to him for four runs in seven innings earlier this year, but that was a minor miracle. When it comes to pitchers of this caliber, history doesn’t matter.
Bullpen: The Red Sox did the Yankees a favor by taxing Seattle’s bullpen yesterday, forcing four relievers to throw 72 pitches across 3.2 IP. One of those four relievers was lefty Aaron Laffey (4.65 FIP), who recorded zero outs but gave up four hits and three runs on a dozen pitches. He also threw 18 pitches on Saturday, so he might not be an option tonight. He’s their only lefty in the ‘pen.
Closer Brandon League (2.69 FIP) threw 18 pitches, but he was just getting work in the blowout. Sometimes setup guy Jamey Wright (4.76 FIP) threw 28 pitches, and garbage time reliever Josh Lueke (4.54 FIP in limiting time) threw 14 pitches. David Pauley (3.36) is the Mariners’ relief ace, and you’ve also got some guy named Jeff Gray (3.42 FIP) and Yankees’ punching bag Chris Ray (3.54 FIP). They typically get the job done, though most of these guys are no names.
The first of two west coast trips in 2011 starts in Seattle, which is universally considered one of the best road cities with a fantastic ballpark. I’ve never been there but I’ve heard it from plenty of people, so I’ll take their word for it. The Yankees won three of four in Safeco Field last season, losing only to the eventual Cy Young Award winner.
What Have The Mariners Done Lately
The Mariners come into this game having won eight of their last ten, though six of those wins came against the punchless Twins and Padres. They allowed just 17 runs in those ten games, and seven of them came in an extra innings win this past Monday. The latest hot stretch has Seattle’s season record at 24-25 with a -7 run differential.
Mariners On Offense
Last year, the Mariners featured the worst offense in the DH era, scoring only 513 runs in 162 games. They’re better than that this year, pushing 176 runs across the plate in 49 games, putting them on pace for 581 runs this season. Their best hitter this year, by far, has been Justin Smoak, the guy Jack Zduriencik wanted instead of Jesus Montero in the Cliff Lee trade. The switch-hitting first baseman leads the team in homers (six), OBP (.365), SLG (.461), ISO (.197), and wOBA (.363), and he recently graduated to the team’s full-time number three hitter.
The rest of the lineup just isn’t any good. Ichiro! sports a .281/.338/.320 line in his age 37 season, and chances are he’s declining instead of just slumping. Jack Cust still draws enough walks to post a good OBP (.364), but his power is gone (.091), he doesn’t hit for average (.231), and he strikes out at ton (35.7% of his at-bats). Chone Figgins has been the worst (qualified) hitter in baseball this season thanks to a .227 wOBA, though he’ll still steal on the rare occasions when he does get on base. Adam Kennedy (.332 wOBA) has been a nice surprise, but Miguel Olivo (.275 wOBA), Jack Wilson (.259 wOBA), Brendan Ryan (.296 wOBA), and Michael Saunders (.223 wOBA) have been predictably terrible. Franklin Gutierrez returned from a prolonged stomach issue not too long ago and has really to really settle in. The left field platoon of career minor leaguer Mike Wilson and prospect Carlos Peguero has yet to impress following Milton Bradley’s release.
Overall, it’s decidedly below-average offense with the second worst team wOBA (.286) and fourth worst OBP (.302) in all of baseball. Smoak is their one serious threat, but with all due respect, he’s not a Jose Bautista/Miguel Cabrera/Josh Hamilton kind of threat. There’s no reason to give him anything to hit in a big spot given his eight lineup-mates.
Mariners On The Mound
Friday, RHP Michael Pineda: They can’t hit, but they can certainly pitch. The 22-year-old Pineda is third in all of baseball (!!!) with a 2.25 FIP (only Roy Halladay and Matt Garza have been better) thanks to his 9.41 K/9 and 2.16 BB/9. The rookie right-hander is a big time fly ball pitcher though (just 34.7% grounders), and lefties give him a harder time than righties because he doesn’t have a changeup. Well, that’s a lie, he has one, but he only uses it 1.2% of the time. Pineda throws three different mid-90′s fastballs, though he uses the four-seamer (50.6% of the time) far more often than the two-seamer (10.8%) or changeup (5.6%). When he gets ahead, he’ll go to town with a mid-80′s slider in search of the strikeout. Being a fly ball pitcher plays into the Yankees’ hands and they can hit the fastball, but Pineda’s is so good that it might not matter.
Saturday, RHP Felix Hernandez: We all know about King Felix, who is probably the best right-handed pitcher in the world aside from Halladay. He’s actually been better this year than last (2.32 FIP vs. 3.04) even if he had a 4.33 ERA after four starts (he’s whittled that down to 3.01 in his seven starts since). The guy’s stuff is so good it’s scary. Felix throws two low-to-mid 90′s fastballs (four and two-seamer), a mid-80′s slider, a low-80′s curveball, and an upper-80′s changeup that is his favorite toy. Hernandez will throw anything in any count, so we just have to hope he has an off night, which is extremely unlikely.
Sunday, LHP Jason Vargas: The least known of the three, Vargas has gone from Marlins’ and Mets’ castoff to a rock solid starter. His 3.86 ERA is right in line with his 3.69 FIP, though he’s not a big strikeout (6.14 K/9) or ground ball (39.1%) guy. Vargas is a legit six pitch pitcher, throwing an upper-80′s two-seamer (30.1% of the time), low-80′s changeup (30.0%), mid-to-upper 80′s four-seamer (15.6%), mid-80′s cutter (11.2%), mid-70′s curveball (7.4%), and mid-80′s slider (5.7%). That unpredictability is why he succeeds with unspectacular stuff. Vargas has been very hit or miss this year, he’s allowed either five-plus runs or two or fewer runs in nine of his ten starts, so there really hasn’t been a middle ground.
Bullpen: As a whole, the Mariners’ relief corps is an unimpressive yet effective group. They don’t strike many batters out (6.09 K/9) or do a great job of limiting walks (3.60 BB/9), instead relying on a stout 50.4% ground ball rate to get outs. Closer and Michael Kay favorite Brandon League sports a 3.06 FIP and has fired off four scoreless appearances after allowing ten runs in three innings across four outings earlier this month. Eighth inning guy Jamey Wright (yes, that Jamey Wright) is striking out more than six men per nine while getting a ground ball on more than six out of every ten balls in play. Go figure.
Middle man David Pauley has a shiny 2.27 FIP, but that will change once his 0.00% HR/FB rate returns to Earth (48.6% grounders). Lefty Aaron Laffey isn’t a traditional specialist, instead working multiple innings to the tune of a 3.69 FIP. Jeff Gray was just claimed off waivers, and the final man in Seattle’s six pitcher bullpen is Yankees’ punching bag Chris Ray. Ah, we sure have some good memories of Chris Ray pitching against the Yankees, don’t we?