Hart: ’14 Mariners similar to ’08 Brewers; young and exciting

lomo-hart

The Seattle Mariners held their 16th annual FanFest this past weekend and set a record with an attendance of 21,019 combined for the two days. The event offers a chance for fans to rub elbows with the players, wonder Safeco Field, and take part in various activities (zip line!). In keeping up with the trends, the Mariners had several players hit the social media booth to take questions from fans via Twitter. Newcomer Corey Hart was one of them, and offered an interesting answer to a question sent his way by yours truly.

Hart’s comparison has some validity on the surface since the 2008 Milwaukee Brewers were relatively young and an exciting team to watch considering the explosive offence they put together. This year’s incarnation of the Mariners would be similar based solely on the fact there’s plenty of youth ready to break out, and any team that has the potential to lead the league in home runs and will send Felix Hernandez to the mound every fifth day is bound to bear some excitement. While the ’14 Mariners aren’t coming off of an 83-win season and probably need another year to see what some of their young guys can do, perhaps there’s more validity to Hart’s comment than meets the eye.

The ’08 Brewers lineup featured two of today’s premier hitters entering their age 24 seasons, Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, and the pair would combine for 71 home runs and 208 runs batted in on the year. Joining them in the lineup were Hart, JJ Hardy, and Mike Cameron, who all belted 20 or more dingers as well. Collectively the team finished third in the National League with 198 home runs, but finished twelfth in the NL with a combined .252 batting average. Braun would finish third in NL MVP voting that year and led the Brew Crew with his .285/.335/.553 line, although he has since admitted to using performance enhancing drugs, clouding his stats slightly to say the least.

Perhaps Hart just might be on to something as the Mariners finished second in the American League with 188 home runs in 2013 led by Raul Ibanez (29 HR), Kendrys Morales (23), Kyle Seager (22), and Justin Smoak (20). However the team’s .237 batting average was last in the league and Morales’ .277 average led the team. Gone are Ibanez and Morales, but if Hart and fellow newcomer Logan Morrison are both able to stay healthy the entire year, it’s possible they could replace the production lost from the departed sluggers. Robinson Cano brings his career .309/.355/.504 line to the team as well as four consecutive finishes in the top six AL MVP voting.

Currently the 2014 M’s are projected to hit 218 home runs according to Steamer, six more than the major league leading Baltimore Orioles hit last year, so the lineup will remain homer-heavy, which always carries some excitement. Cano, Hart, and Smoak are all projected to hit more than 20 long balls this year, and five others are projected to be over the thirteen mark as well. Having a homer-heavy lineup is obviously much more effective when a team can capitalize with runners on base; 19 of Ibanez’s 29 home runs last year were solo shots. The ’08 Brewers drove in 722 batters as a team compared to just 597 driven in by the ’13 Mariners. Steamer projects 683 runs batted in for this year, not only a marked improvement from last year but also a number that would’ve placed Seattle among the top ten teams in baseball last season.

While the home run production is comparable between the two clubs, a key difference was that Milwaukee didn’t pay for their long ball with defence. Without dwelling on the misadventures of Ibanez, Mike Morse et all, UZR gave Seattle a defensive rating of -73.0. Ouch. The Brewers on the other hand, received a 15.9 UZR rating in 2008. Cano will help in this department, but the outfield looks almost abysmal defensively; especially if Michael Saunders spends much time in center. For what it’s worth, Seattle only stole 49 bases compared to 108 stolen by Milwaukee and Steamer only projects Saunders  and Brad Miller to steal more than ten bases in the upcoming year. How important steals are is debatable, but the point being made is that the ’08 Brewers featured a much more rounded offensive than the ’14 Mariners project to field.

The Brew Crew featured a steady yet unspectacular rotation until they acquired CC Sabathia in a July trade with the Indians that year. After the 22-year old Yovani Gallardo went down with injury, the staff anchored by Ben Sheets, Dave Bush, and Jeff Suppan helped combine for the National League’s second lowest ERA at 3.85. This was actually a very productive year for Sheets who had missed parts of 2007 and 2006 with injuries. In 198 1/3 innings pitched he posted a 3.09 ERA with a 3.38 FIP and 3.88 xFIP; good for 4.3 fWAR and bWAR. Sabathia was the real game changer for the rotation however, posting a sparkling 1.65 ERA in 17 starts, seven of which were complete games. His performance with the Brewers even garnered some National League Cy Young and MVP attention despite pitching half his season in the American League.

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Now, one would like to think that a pitching staff highlighted by King Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma wouldn’t have one of the worst earned run averages in the AL, but that was the case in 2013. Only the Minnesota Twins and Houston Astros had worse results than Seattle’s 4.32 ERA. Although Felix and Kuma only represented about 30 percent of the innings pitched by the staff, the other 70 percent was pretty ugly. Youngsters Taijuan Walker and James Paxton impressed in their September cameo appearances, and Danny Farquhar, Yoervis Medina, Charlie Furbush, and Oliver Perez  were effective out of the bullpen.

As it stands, the Mariners’ rotation features nearly zero certainty after the top two spots. Some incarnation of Walker, Paxton, Brandon Maurer, Erasmo Ramirez, and the newly signed Scott Baker figure to fill out the remaining three rotation spots. Much has been made about the height of Walker’s ceiling, and there’s a good chance Paxton becomes a productive starter down the line, but both are almost complete question marks for 2014 and probably best served starting the year at Triple-A. Maurer and Ramirez  are still young and could develop into useful pieces, but unless they’ve improved tremendously this winter, there’s no reason to pencil them in for any more than a bullpen gig. A healthy Baker is a legitimate back end rotation guy, but that’s still to be determined as well.

The Brewers did get something resembling a breakout year from Manny Parra in his first full big league season. After nine appearances in 2007, the then 25-year old posted a 4.39 ERA, 4.16 FIP, and 3.81 xFIP over 29 starts and 32 appearances. That would turn out to be his the most productive season of his career thus far, but at the cost of a league minimum salary, nobody was complaining about his performance in 2008. For what it’s worth, Paxton is entering his age 25 season and if he can contribute something resembling Parra’s 1.9 fWAR and contribute over the course of the entire season, that’d be huge for the club. Even when Gallardo went down with injury, the Brew Crew were able to get a decent result out of ten Seth McClung starts. If Walker or Paxton are unable to go for whatever reason, the Mariners’ rotation once again hinges on guys like Ramirez. I’d rather have McClung, thanks.

Outside of Sabathia, Milwaukee’s rotation was regarded as far from flashy heading into the 2008 season. There was still some notable hype surrounding Gallardo who was the Brewers’ second round choice in the 2004 draft, though it was less than that associated with Walker currently. Sheets had dealt with injuries the previous two campaigns and Suppan and Bush had yet to established much consistency in their respective games. But, Milwaukee did enter the year with a set of fairly dependable arms and got a little bit of luck aside from the Gallardo injury. The Mariners’ projected 2014 rotation isn’t just a little bit of luck and health away from being Wild Card calibre.

Obviously Hart comparing the 2014 Seattle Mariners to the 2008 Milwaukee Brewers wasn’t meant to be analyzed this much. His reasoning could be as simple as the fact that the Mariners are going to hit a lot of home runs this year and will feature several young players with the ability to be difference makers; both are attributes of exciting baseball.

The Brewers would go on to lose in the National League Division Series in four games to the Philadelphia Phillies in ’08, a result that seems too far out of the Mariners’ reach at this point. Acquiring David Price would certainly help, but maybe the M’s should allocate most of their available resources to help the outfield and attempt to bring in a Bush or Suppan circa 2008 type of starter instead. Felix and Kuma offer enough star power at the top of the rotation to allow for a Bronson Arroyo to fit in the three spot until Walker or Paxton claim it as their own. Unless Ervin Santana falls into their lap, there’s not much left for free agent starters.

All in all, the Mariners may just be in a similar position to where the Brewers were six years ago. A lot will have to go right for the club to be a legitimate playoff contender this year, but a strong step towards fielding a contending team in 2015 may be just as good of a result.

About the author

Tyler is an entrepreneurial student living in Vancouver, B.C. with a love of all things baseball, hockey and rock’n’roll. He is a proud supporter all MLB players from the great white north and longs for a return of October baseball to the Pacific Northwest.

Tyler joined the PI team in the fall of 2013.

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Tyler Carmont

Tyler is an entrepreneurial student living in Vancouver, B.C. with a love of all things baseball, hockey and rock'n'roll. He is a proud supporter all MLB players from the great white north and longs for a return of October baseball to the Pacific Northwest. Tyler joined the PI team in the fall of 2013.

80 thoughts on “Hart: ’14 Mariners similar to ’08 Brewers; young and exciting

  1. Tyler Carmont

    I think that’s what Seattle is attempting to do, and that’s where players like Paxton and Franklin are probably being dangled. Quality, young outfielders simply aren’t all that available right now, and for good reason. If Kemp looks good during Spring Training then I think his name could resurface in trade rumors again, or perhaps another veteran guy who loses their job to a kid becomes available next month. Still a lot of time to make another move or two.

  2. Tyler Carmont

    I think I’m slowly convincing myself that allowing 2014 to be a ‘wait and see’ year with a real aim for 2015 isn’t the worst thing. If the Mariners get steps forward for Walker, Paxton, Saunders, Maurer/Ramirez, Miller, Morrison, and maybe even Smoak, they’re in a much better position to make another major acquisition next winter. I’ve never liked the idea of banking on prospects, but if Walker and Paxton prove they can hold their own in the rotation for 180-200 innings a year (they may not even get that opportunity till 2015) then spending $60 million on Santana becomes pretty redundant. Not that you can have too much pitching, but I’m sure you can see my point.

  3. Edman

    And, when do we conclude that that virtue has expired?

  4. Jerry

    I don’t see the payroll as an issue. At least not right now.

    I’m assuming that the money invested in Felix and Cano isn’t an isolated thing. After cutting payroll and rebuilding the club, it makes sense to gradually ramp back up over $100 mil. I expect to see the payroll gradually going upward over the next few years. Part of that will be spent on rising salaries and (hopefully) locking up young players who develop into keepers. But as the M’s (hopefully) get closer to being a legit contender in the next year or two, they will correctly evaluate their window to win and add those last few pieces to put the team over the top.

    I don’t see any need to suddenly invest a ton of money and go into full-on “WIN NOW” mode right now. Its not the right time: the team still has a lot of unproven or struggling young players that they need to either develop or move on from, and that will take another 1-2 years. I was actually afraid that Jack would try too hard to push the timeframe forward this year in a short-sighted effort to save his job. Thus far this offseason, that hasn’t happened. They’ve made some significant moves and added salary, but in a relatively smart way. They are headed in the right direction, but this is still a ~80 win team IMHO.

    Patience is a virtue. Adding a guy like Cruz only makes sense if the M’s think they need to win right now. Bringing him in wastes playing time that could be used to develop/evaluate guys like Ackley, Saunders, Smoak, Morrison, Montero, etc. We really need 1-2 of those guys to turn into good players. If they did sign Cruz, he likely wouldn’t be around when this team hits their window of contention anyway. Its not like Tanaka.

    Instead, I think the M’s should bide their time, continue building a solid foundation, and look for other options that fit better with their time frame.

    Instead of asking “can the M’s afford another hitter”, they should be asking “is there anyone available that would be a good fit for this team this year and in the future?”

  5. Sure, they could spend more money this year, but the options aren’t that appealing right now.

    Santana and Jiminez are unpredictable and probably not worth the money, loss of draft pick, and loss of bonus pool $$.

    The mid-tier of SP’s next offseason look pretty decent. I could see adding another guy next year, like Homer Bailey. Plus, we’ll have a year to evaluate our young starters like Erasmo, Paxton, Maurer, and Walker.

    As for hitting, Cruz could help drive in a few runs and bolster the offense. Nobody really likes him, but he has his purposes. Sounds like we’re considering him, so there’s some allusion to the team’s willingness to spend money.

    We all know it makes zero sense to buy Cano and not increase the budget, but our options for the coming season are pretty bad, barring some unforseen trades. I bet ownership and management recognize the situation and are unwilling to spend money on bad investments.

    2014 may not necessarily be our year. Each coming year, however, looks better. I don’t believe Cano is falling off a cliff anytime soon. Our young guys will hopefully get better and better, (and more expensive, all the more reason not to tie funds up in crappy investments like Santana). Maybe we add another piece or two next year, and finish the project in 2016. This is a long-term program we’re running, and I still believe in the direction of the front office.

  6. Tyler Carmont

    That’s what I was saying: we can argue all we like about how money should be spent, but there’s been no indication that the Mariners had they pick of players. The fact they managed to convince Cano to sign should be celebrated for what it’s worth.

  7. Edman

    I have a great dislike for “what could have happened” scenarios, because they treat everything as if it’s inevitable that if Seattle wanted Ellsbury, he’d simply be a Mariner. And that Ubaldo would come to Seattle simply because Jack asked. It’s never that simple.

    Seattle landed a guy nobody thought he could. As much as you can play the “roster construction game”, it always depends on who you can sign, not who you want to sign.

  8. Tyler Carmont

    In terms of pure roster construction, perhaps spending $240 million on Ellsbury and one of Garza/Ubaldo/Santana might have made more sense, but the Mariners were able to convince the best free agent available to come to Seattle. As we’ve seen, that’s been an incredibly difficult task. They made a statement when they signed Cano, and hoped it would open doors to other players wanting to come. Of course, that hasn’t quite happened yet, but a couple of true franchise players and a strong young nucleus of talent do make the team much more appealing. My only problem with the signing was if GMZ/upper management are content to stop spending now. Like Paul Martin said below, signing Cano requires a boost in payroll. Perhaps the money is there and the M’s are just having a hard time spending it, maybe they want to wait till next year to spend more, who knows. The Cano signing only becomes a problem if Seattle is unable to bring in the players required to make the signing count.

  9. Paul Martin

    Loved the Cano signing, can’t ask for much more on a free agent signing!

    I guess my issue is NOT Jack’s fault, and that is TEAM PAYROLL.

    if you are going to spend big on King Felix and Cano, then payroll needs to move up to the 115 to 130 million range so you can field a team around them. I am not saying spend recklessly, but it cost money to build pitching depth and maybe trade for someone’s bad contract.

    I wasn’t expecting Jack to fix all the team’s warts this offseason, but adding talented pieces like Cano was exactly what was needed.

  10. Edman

    We had an All-Star, All-AL Team type of secondbaseman? Where did you expect he could find that kind of player at another position? So, you’d be all for over-spending for a pitcher that’s never thrown a pitch in the majors, instead of an All-Star secondbaseman, who has a proven record as an elite hitter? You’d be all for Jack doing nothing, with the expectation that he could win the “Tanaka” game?

    God people are fickle, and full of expectations that assume that all things they think are possible, are possible.

    Many have ripped him for not getting a big name. Now, you whine because he did, with the expectation that those players come cheap?

    It’s easy to sit back and say what you would have done, when there is with the expectation that if you think they’re available, they are always available to Seattle.

    What available players are willing to come to Seattle? Until you know, you don’t know.

  11. Edman

    You asked me where I heard it, and typically that ends up in a “prove it” situation. I apologize if you took it as an angry comment. It wasn’t meant to be. I was being pre-emptive, and letting you know that I know he said it, but I don’t remember where or how. And usually, that comes with the expectation that I’m going to waste my time over something that’s ultimately not that important.

  12. Cano is the best free agent hitter to come along since 2008. I didn’t look back any further than that. Other noteworthy guys: Beltre, Teixeira, Holliday, Pujols, Fielder, Ellsbury.

    No one from next year’s class is as good, either.

    Jack Z bought the best free agent to come along in years. A guy who plays up the middle, swings a big stick, plays great D, and is healthy year after year.

    Sounds pretty smart to me. Guys like Cano don’t come along very often.

  13. My objection to GMZ’s moves are that he is not filling holes that need filling and he is wasting resources in the process. He’s a good scouting manager, GM not so much IMO. $240 million for a second baseman and we had one who was proven and one that was possible. Granted he has more tools and is a big name. For that money they could have possibly gotten Tanaka whom will probably be as productive in WAR and would have filled a hole in our rotation where we have two prospects and a rehab case as 3, 4 and 5. If not then two passable free agent arms. Bad back of the rotation pitching wore out our bullpen last year and the bullpen we had has been depleted by injury, trade and release and is worse off now than at the end of the season. We have too much depth at DH, 1B and the OF and lack of depth in the rotation and bullpen. I’m still not sure what they got LoMo for, other than he was a “name” that had a good season a couple of years ago but not recently. There just doesn’t seem to be much of a structured approach to making the team better, just picking up parts and shoehorning them into an unbalanced lineup. Nelson Cruz may well sink the Mariner Cruzliner, rather than keep it afloat into contention. (Edman this is my opinion. The US Constitution says I’m entitled to one.)

  14. Jerry

    One last option: Rusney Castillo.

    Guy has had success in Cuba, and can play both OF corners as well as 2B and 3B. From what I’ve read, he’s a really interesting speed/power guy.

    Why not? I’d rather take a flyer on someone who might be good after a few months acclimatizing in AAA than sign a player who isn’t an upgrade over what we already have.

    Obviously, the M’s could do this and still do what you are suggesting. But I think a trade for a younger OFer is more likely to happen mid-season at this point.

  15. Jerry

    Yeah, this is a good point.

    I’m hoping this is just more Jim Bowden bullshit.

    The rumored interest in Fernando Rodney makes a bit more sense, though.

  16. Jerry

    You’d be pleased to see the M’s lose a draft pick just to spite Scott Boras?

    He’s just acting in the best interests of his clients. Its the MLBs stupid rules that are hurting players.

    Regardless, I think some team will pick him up. I could see the Orioles grabbing him. Or someone will get injured.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t know of any good player get completely passed over in free agency over draft compensation. People thought that might happen to Kyle Lohse last year, but he got signed. It would be pretty unprecedented. Could happen, though.

  17. rjfrik

    Actually to Edman’s credit he has really become A LOT more civil over the last year. I don’t know what happened, but he isn’t nearly as confrontational as he used to be. Just stating his opinion. He said he heard it somewhere years ago. Not sure where.

  18. Tyler Carmont

    Smoak is going to get every opportunity to succeed once again, but not based on whether or not he deserves it. Hart and Morrison will have to prove they’re healthy enough to man first base on a regular basis and should that happen and Smoak continues to be mediocre, I think the end of the road will be a lot closer for him.

    I do believe that they could all be managed effectively, and it’s probably unwise to have Hart and Lomo playing everyday, especially Hart. It’s going to be one of those wait and see kind of things and probably a case where the hot hand(s) is the one in the lineup. Like I’ve said, re-upping Morales isn’t a best case scenario, but it’s far from a worst case scenario. At least he doesn’t have ‘outfielder’ listed as his position.

  19. davis09

    Geez Edman I never called you a liar just wondering where you heard that. Maybe check into anger management somewhere.

  20. Ripperlv

    Do you believe the M’s kept Smoak so he can ride the pine? Why does Morrison deserve more playing time than Smoak? Maybe that’s how it will end up, but it see Smoak, getting his time.

  21. Gibbo

    A lot of people talk about the logjam at DH 1B etc, it’s no actually that bad. Smoak doesn’t deserve a full time gig. So if he gets relegated to the bench, no loss. The other guys Hart, Morrison, even a Cruz or Morales all need playing time managed, platooning or time off… So I will believe it’s an issue when they are all if or performing at the same time… Just wonder what the odds of that ever happening?

  22. Tyler Carmont

    I read an interesting comment on Twitter today, it might have been from one of the Lookout Landing guys, I don’t remember, but it was something along the lines of almost everything the M’s have done under the Jack Z regime have been virtually unleaked until they happen. Cano is an obvious anomaly to a statement like that, but the signing of a quarter billion dollar contract is an anomaly as well.

    It could mean nothing, but a normally hush-hush front office publicly expressing this much interesting in a player? Seems a little odd, doesn’t it? Maybe not. Maybe they really do want Morales back and are playing up the Cruz card to get Morales’ price tag down.

    Morales adding to the logjam of 1B/DH/LOLOF aside, the team does have Bloomquist who can hypothetically still play almost everywhere, and Ackley who can spend time in the outfield and infield as well. Obviously I’d prefer resources spent on a proper centerfielder, or at the very least another proper outfielder, but maybe the M’s are more confident in what they have than we are.

    WAR isn’t a perfect measure of a player, but I don’t think we can accurately say any one statistic is. In my estimation, it’s an attempt to find a value that combines the performance of all the tangible assets a player has, making it easier to analyze the correlation between performance and money. It’s easy to say “he hit 40 HR therefore he’s a $15 million dollar player”, but can a player who does other things well be worth the same? Or what about a pitcher? WAR provides us with more of a guideline to compare players and value them than anything else.

    It may seem obvious but remember, if a GM built their team solely on WAR numbers they wouldn’t be in a job for very long. So much more goes into player valuations than just their bottom line performance. The DBacks like ‘scrappy’ ball players. The 2002 Oakland A’s wanted OBP. Maybe the Mariners value home run potential more than anything else. WAR can be a very valuable tool for roster construction, but it’s exactly that; a tool.

  23. rjfrik

    In important fact that I completely forgot about.

    Cruz was busted for performance enhancing drugs. How long has he been using? Unfortunately the reports weren’t released. How many of his numbers and more importantly “dingers” were from these performance enhancing drugs? Now that he’s clean, what will his numbers look like?

    Another reason to just say no to Cruz

  24. rjfrik

    LOL. Yep all those Aces he won’t be facing every year.

    Good one!

  25. rjfrik

    Edman,

    You are wrong that Cruz likes to hit in Seattle. He has stated doesn’t like to hit here. And his stats can paint a picture as of why. He regresses from his career normals in SafeCo big time. The last three years he has been one of the worst fielders and base runners in all of baseball, add onto that the fact that he can’t hit in SafeCo and I really don’t see the benefit of signing Cruz to this team. What are the benefits of Cruz to the team?

    And remember Cruz isn’t coming here on a one year, team friendly contract, he will cost multiple years, dollars and a draft pick. So what are the benefits?

  26. Garry

    Please remember Cruz wouldn’t be batting against Seattle’s past stellar SP either!

  27. Edman

    Cruz said it a couple of years ago, davis. You want a specific quote, you can call me a liar if you want, but I’m not going to waste my valuable time surfing Google to satisfy you. Believe what you will.

    And no, I don’t think he has good numbers at Safeco, after reviewing the numbers posted here. But, I also don’t put a lot of credence into small sample sizes of a visiting player. I’ve seen the excitement of players coming to Seatte, who in that small sample size, who went on to suck. So, I imagine it can go the other way too.

  28. davis09

    Edman- when did Cruz state on record he loved hitting at Safeco? Do you really think he has put up good numbers there?

  29. Jerry

    I agree. Although at least Ibanez had a swing that was suited to Safeco. With Cruz, that isn’t the case. He’s exactly the type of guy that struggles in Seattle.

  30. Jerry

    Lots of things to respond to:

    First, playing time shouldn’t be allocated to players based on selling tickets. Especially if the guy we are talking about will cost the team tons of money, a draft pick, and playing time that should go to other young players. That type of decision making process is for losers.

    Second, whether or not Cruz is better than Raul Ibanez in the field isn’t exactly relevant. If that’s the standard……wow.

    Despite his veteran grittiness and impressive HR totals, Ibanez was a below average player. We have 3-4 guys who are better than that right now. This isn’t about replacing Ibanez. Its about figuring out what we have on the roster right now, and making an informed decision about whether or not we can improve on that.

    Third, the M’s don’t have to decide between Cruz and trades. Its not an either/or decision. The M’s can just decline to sign a guy who isn’t a very good baseball player. You mention Casper Wells and other players who may be available. But you’re missing an important option: do nothing! The M’s currently have five OFers on the roster with ML experience. Unless you think Nelson Cruz will be a substantial improvement over what we already have, it doesn’t make sense. Its certainly debatable whether or not Cruz is better than the guys we already have. I don’t think he is. But you’re portraying this as if it is a decision between Cruz and whoever else is left. That’s not the case.

    The status quo is smarter than doing something stupid.

    Finally, Cruz has hit .198/.250/.337 at Safeco over the last three years.

    Thats not very good. Not that that matters much, since an 85 AB sample isn’t significant. But Safeco has historically been VERY tough on RH pull hitters like Cruz. He’s similar to Adrian Beltre, but without the same ability to make contact. Basically, he’s a shitty Adrian Beltre with no defensive value. Remember what happened to Beltre when he played here?

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