The 2016 Major League Baseball non-waiver trading deadline came and went without the Seattle Mariners making a significant upgrade to their major league roster. That’s a surprise to most observers — including me — who expected first-year general manager (GM) Jerry Dipoto to be active during the hours and days leading up to today’s 1 p.m. deadline.

The most notable deal during this year’s “deadline season” happened yesterday when Seattle sent left-handed starter Wade Miley to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for a minor league starting pitcher. That’s not exactly the kind of action fans were expecting.

Why no other moves? Simply stated, the market didn’t permit any.

Dipoto explained to Seattle Times beat writer Ryan Divish that “the greatest opportunities we had were to sell off, and that’s just not something we were willing to do.” That’s a disappointing development for Seattle faithful. At the same time, it’s encouraging that the front office didn’t forsake their future for a slim chance at making the postseason this season.

Despite the disappointment felt by fans, Dipoto did make several moves that improve his ball club now and potentially in the future. Let’s look at them starting with yesterday’s transaction.

Miley to Baltimore Orioles for Ariel Miranda
In retrospect, the Mariners may never have acquired Miley from the Boston Red Sox, if they had known Hisashi Iwakuma would be returning to Seattle. At the time of the deal, “Kuma” was reportedly set to sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Not knowing that Iwakuma’s deal with the Dodgers would fall through within a week, Dipoto did what anyone in his position would do — find a replacement. That led to the Mariners GM shipping reliever Carson Smith and starter Roenis Elias to Boston for Miley and minor league reliever Jonathan Aro.

The deal wasn’t optimal for the Mariners, who were exchanging two young pitchers with a combined 10 years of club control for three years of Miley — a slightly above-average performer — and Aro, who may never be anything more minor league depth.

Unfortunately, for the Mariners and Miley, he didn’t even deliver average value. Known for being an innings eater, the southpaw averaged just 5.9 innings-per-start with Seattle after averaging 6.2 since during his four previous seasons. That may not sound like a big difference, but the end result was the 29-year-old not completing the sixth inning in 32-percent of his starts — not exactly what you’d expect from an “innings eater.”

In recent starts, Miley did display some signs of improvement with a .243 opponents on-base percentage (OBP) and 2.79 earned run average (ERA) during his last 19.1 innings. Despite the uptick in productivity, Dipoto opted to deal the southpaw to Baltimore rather than wait to see if the former number-one pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks had actually turned a corner.

In return for Miley, the Mariners received the 27-year-old Miranda, who Dipoto views as “major league ready.” Currently assigned to Class-AAA Tacoma, the southpaw may eventually transition into another power arm out of the bullpen for Seattle. In the short-term though, he’ll likely see action with the big league club by taking Miley’s former spot in the rotation on Thursday.

Whether the Mariners should’ve moved or retained Miley is debatable, but there’s certainly going to be some measure of scrutiny on what Dipoto received from Baltimore, especially when the Tampa Bay Rays received considerably more for a pitcher similar to Miley in age, value, and cost — Matt Moore.

In exchange for Moore, Tampa Bay was able to acquire a young major league infielder — Matt Duffy — from the San Francisco Giants, plus two top-30 prospects from the Giants farm system. Although the Moore deal looks far more appealing on the surface, there may be underlying reasons why the Mariners couldn’t strike a similar deal. The most obvious one being money.

The Orioles were willing to pay all of Miley’s salary — just over $2 million for the remainder of this season, plus $8.75 million next year. As a result of Baltimore’s willingness to accept all of Miley’s salary, the Mariners had to settle for a lesser return.

My takeaway from yesterday’s deal is that Dipoto is willing to acknowledge, through his actions, when he’s made a mistake and that he’s more than willing to adjust course. That’s an encouraging development for an organization that’s historically been too slow or rigid to pivot when confronted with adversity.

Mike Montgomery / Jordan Pries to Chicago Cubs for Dan Vogelbach / Paul Blackburn
This is a deal that helped the Mariners get younger and deeper and may help them as early as this season. The key to the deal, from Seattle’s perspective, was Vogelbach. With three-time all-star Anthony Rizzo standing in his way, the 23-year-old first baseman didn’t have a future with Chicago.

The Cubs’ surplus at first base and need for pitching provided Seattle with an opportunity to pick up the left-handed slugger in exchange for Montgomery and Pries. As with Dipoto views Vogelbach as major league ready. If the Mariners opt to move past their current left-handed hitting first baseman — Adam Lind — in the coming weeks, Vogelbach could find himself first base for Seattle. If he doesn’t get his chance this year, he’s likely to enter Spring Training with an opportunity to win the first base job for 2017.

Blackburn, who’s been assigned to Class-AA Jackson, has the potential to be a back-end starter. The combination of Miranda and Blackburn means that the Mariners added two minor league starters closer to reaching the big leagues than nearly any other prospect in their minor league system.  That’s a factor that can’t be overlooked for an organization that started the season with one of the worst systems in the majors.

Recalling Edwin Diaz from Class-AA Jackson
Arguably, the Mariners’ biggest move was the promotion of the hard-throwing right-hander, who only converted from starter to reliever in mid-May. Since debuting with Seattle on June 6, Diaz has quickly ascended to the eighth inning setup role thanks to his 17.6 strikeouts-per-nine innings rate — highest among major league pitchers with 25 or more innings pitched.

It’s plausible that Diaz could move into the closer role, although it’s important to note that assigning the 22-year-old to close games doesn’t fix the bigger problem that the Mariners face — a shortage of high-leverage arms. For now, Steve Cishek remains the closer and Seattle’s bullpen continues to be the team’s weakest link.

Joaquin Benoit to the Toronto Blue Jays for Drew Storen
This was essentially a change of location move that will, hopefully, benefit both players and teams. Benoit, shut down twice this year due to shoulder issues, had lost his job as the team’s eighth inning setup man to Diaz.

Similarly, Storen has fallen on hard times since losing his closer job with the Washington Nationals after the club acquired Jonathan Papelbon at last year’s deadline. Once relegated to the setup role, the 28-year-old’s performance dropped off dramatically and he was dealt to the Blue Jays in the offseason. After vying with Roberto Osuna for Toronto’s closer job during Spring Training, Storen he found himself in the setup role and, once again, he failed to deliver.

Since becoming a Mariner, the right-hander has seen action in two relatively low-leverage appearances and delivered mixed results. In his Mariners debut, he pitched a clean sixth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 3-1 ballgame; however, he surrendered four runs the following inning. During last night’s game with the Cubs, he worked another clean sixth inning.

Free agent signing of Tom Wilhelmsen
Another change of location move involved the return of a familiar face. Wilhelmsen, who went to the Texas Rangers in the deal that brought Leonys Martin to Seattle, struggled with the Rangers and eventually became a free agent after refusing assignment to Class-AAA Round Rock. That opened the door for “The Bartender” to return to Seattle.

Since returning to the Emerald City, the big right-hander has rebounded nicely. Although it’s a small sample size, he’s held opposing hitters to a .278 OBP during his first 10 innings with the Mariners. Whether the 32-years-old can continue to sustain his rejuvenated performance remains to be seen. But, so far, the versatile reliever has been an asset for manager Scott Servais.

Player to be named later or cash to the Toronto Blue Jays for Wade LeBlanc
During the Mariners’ nosedive known as the month of June, the club suffered significant injury losses to their rotation. Among those lost were Felix Hernandez, Miley, Taijuan Walker, and Adrian Sampson — Miley’s replacement — for most or all of June.

In need of someone who could hold down a rotation spot — at least temporarily — Dipoto turned to LeBlanc, who was pitching for Class-AAA Syracuse in the Blue Jays system. In four starts, the southpaw has held opposing hitters to a .275 OBP. With the departure of Miley and the club still waiting for Walker to return, LeBlanc re-enters the rotation this week against the Red Sox.

Will this be the most memorable deal made by Dipoto during the deadline season? No. But, the Mariners GM deserves credit for finding a competent replacement player for virtually no cost.

Finally
There’s no doubt that the Mariners are a good team capable of finishing with a winning record. But, their big league roster lacks the necessary depth for them to be considered a serious contender. Does that mean they can’t make the postseason? No. But, their shallow bullpen and degraded rotation leave them at a severe disadvantage.

Sure, King Felix and Walker could return to form and Nick Vincent and Charlie Furbush may come back from injury to reinforce the bullpen. But, that’s a lot to hope for during the last two months of a season that’s seen so many things go wrong. Isn’t it?

 …

Dipoto MarinersFrom the moment Jerry Dipoto became general manager of the Seattle Mariners, he’s emphasized the need to build a roster capable of taking advantage of the expansive Safeco Field dimensions.

As I see it, the 48-year-old executive envisions a foundation of athletic and accomplished players, who are adept at reaching base and wreaking havoc through productive aggressiveness on the bases.

Equally important are outfield defenders who can run down balls in Safeco’s spacious outfield. In Dipoto’s world, a run save is as valuable as a run scored.

To be honest, I thought this season’s Opening Day roster was a massive upgrade over the 2015 version of the Mariners. I’ve been saying as much in previous Prospect Insider pieces and on Twitter. But, the more I think about it, the club has fallen short in a couple of those key areas targeted by Dipoto during the offseason.

This finally became glaringly clear to me in late June when watching the Pittsburgh Pirates take on the Mariners at Safeco. I was thoroughly impressed with the athleticism, speed, and on-base ability of the Pirates. So was Mike Salk of 710 ESPN Seattle, who took to Twitter to deliver his assessment of the visiting team’s roster.

The simple and straightforward comment from the co-host of the Brock and Salk Show hit the nail right on the head — Pittsburgh was better built for Safeco than the home team. This gave me the idea to dig into the Mariners’ home field suitability and look around the league for the teams best built for Safeco.

To get a better feel of where the Mariners stand this season, I decided to see where the team’s on-base ability, outfield defense, and base running ranked against the other 29 major league clubs. I also compared those rankings to last year’s to gauge Seattle’s improvement. Overall, the numbers weren’t encouraging.

Mariners MLB Rankings
Season On-Base Ability Outfield Defense (DRS)
Base Running
OBP BB% SO% OF LF CF RF BsR SB%
2015 22 14 25 30 25 30 26 29 29
2016 10 13 12 28 28 22 24 30 30

As you can see, the Mariners have significantly improved in just one area — reaching base. That’s clearly evident by their top-10 on-base percentage (OBP). Unfortunately, for the ball club and its fans, that’s the only area worth bragging about.

Based on defensive runs saved (DRS), Seattle’s outfield defense isn’t good enough. The addition of center fielder Leonys Martin was a step in the right direction. However, last season’s core of corner outfielders — Seth Smith, Nelson Cruz, and Franklin Gutierrez — remain on the roster.

The trio has combined to play 65-percent of all left and right field innings this season. Based on the defensive metrics, they’re all below-average fielders — as they were last season. This does not bode well for an organization trying to improve their outfield defense.

Nori Aoki was brought in to help the club’s outfield defense, team speed and on-base ability. To date, he’s under-performed in all three areas and finds himself playing for Class-AAA Tacoma as a result. Aoki will likely return to the big league club in the near future. Perhaps, he’ll get his season back on track and help the Mariners make a pennant push.

On the base paths, there’s only one way for me to put it — the baby is ugly. Seattle base runners have cost the team runs and continue to rank at the bottom of the league in both sabermetric and standard base running statistics.

BsR (Base Running) is a FanGraphs statistic that takes into account all aspects of base path action — stolen base success, taking extra bases, being thrown out while on base, etc. If you’ve been watching the Mariners over the last few seasons, their low standing doesn’t surprise you.

The same goes for stolen base percentage (SB%), which is the old-fashioned measurement of how successful a base runner has been at stealing bases. Not only is Seattle still at the bottom of the league, their 53-percent success rate is eight points lower than last season.

Now that I’ve established that the Mariners have a lot of work to do, let’s turn our attention to clubs that I believe are a far better fit for Safeco Field than the home team; based on on-base ability, outfield range, and team speed. Let’s start with the club mentioned by Mr. Salk.

Pittsburgh Pirates
As good as the Pirates look, their roster isn’t the best fit for Safeco among the clubs I plan to discuss. But, their stable of players exemplifies the type of players that fit the mold of what Dipoto has been publicly advocating, especially in the outfield.

The starting trio of Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco form one of the most athletic starting outfields in the majors. Marte leads all major league left fielders in DRS and Polanco ranks tenth among right fielders. Defensive metrics don’t love McCutchen, which confounded me, until I spoke to Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill.

Jason pointed out that Marte/Polanco may be the best corner outfield combo in the majors and that they reach balls in the gaps their peers can’t. As a result, their defensive excellence could be creating the appearance that McCutchen has limited range. Even if McCutchen’s poor DRS accurately portrayed his defensive prowess, the Pirates total outfield is slightly above average, which is all that really matters for any club.

Pittsburgh’s offense is a deep unit that ended the first half of the season with the third best OBP in the big leagues. The club brags nine players — including the rehabbing Francisco Cervelli — with 150 or more plate appearance and an OBP above the league-average (.323). By comparison, the productive Mariners offense has five.

Team speed has been an important element in the Pittsburgh attack. Their base runners entered the all-star break tied with the Houston Astros for third most stolen bases (68) in the big leagues and the fifth best success rate — 76-percent. Leading the way for the Bucs is Marte, who entered the break with 30 swiped bags — second most in the majors.

The Pirates are certainly a better fit for Safeco than the current edition of the Mariners. But, there are two other rosters I like more. The next team has been better known for relying on offensive firepower — not speed, defense, and athleticism.

Boston Red Sox
Boston’s offense reached the all-star break leading the majors in OBP and slugging percentage. In years past, you might have assumed the long ball was the driving force behind their prolific slugging — not in 2016. This version of the Red Sox is only league-average at hitting home runs, but leads the league in doubles and top-10 in triples.

All things considered, the team’s outfield defense has fared well even though left field has been problematic due to injuries to Chris Young, Blake Swihart, and Brock Holt at one time or another. Thanks to the dynamic duo of center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and right fielder Mookie Betts and Holt, the Red Sox outfield ranks number-five in the majors in DRS.

The club’s success on the base paths — third in the majors in BsR — is another new wrinkle in Beantown. Leading the way are Betts, Bradley, and shortstop Xander Bogaerts. Like the Pirates, the Red Sox are top-10 for stolen bases. More importantly, they have the highest success rate (86-percent) in the majors. That’s seven-percent better than the second best Cleveland Indians.

The Red Sox may play in the oldest ballpark in baseball, but they have a foundation of young, athletic ballplayers fueling their success in the outfield and throughout their lineup.

This season, the Red Sox have used 15 position players 28-years-old or younger. That’s tied for most in the majors. Among those players are Travis ShawChristian Vazquez, Bogaerts, Bradley, Betts, Swihart, and Holt. Yes, having young players doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. They have to be good AND young. That’s the case in Boston.

My favorite roster also plays in a ballpark opened before the start of World War I and employs Boston’s former general manager as their president of baseball operations.

Chicago Cubs
Yes, picking the team with the second best record in the majors isn’t exactly a tough choice. But, I didn’t pick the team with the best record — the San Francisco Giants — and the other teams I’ve discussed started the second half in third place. While the Cubs could win in any park, including Yellowstone, they’d be a great fit for Safeco thanks to their superb on-base skills, outfield defense, and overall athleticism.

Chicago’s long lineup is second best in the majors at reaching base. How long is that lineup? All but one of the 12 position players on the current 25-man roster are above league average in OBP. There’s no breathing room for opposing pitchers when it comes to facing the Cubs’ lineup.

Defensively, the team’s outfield ranks third in the big leagues. The best of the bunch — right fielder Jason Heyward — continues to be an elite-level defender with the second best DRS. The 26-year-old has also logged over 120 innings of center field duty this season.

Regular center fielder Dexter Fowler — currently on the disabled list — isn’t on par with his partner in right field. But, his contributions along with Heyward and Albert Almora, have the Cubs center field defense ranked tenth in the big leagues. Thanks to Kris Bryant, Chris Coghlan, and Almora, Chicago’s left field contingent is also top-10.

Although the North Siders are below league-average in stolen base proficiency, they rank number-five in BsR because they’re adept at taking the extra base, which proves there’s more to base running than just stealing bases.

As with the Red Sox, Chicago boasts a bevvy of young stars. Six key contributors are 26-years-old or younger — Anthony Rizzo (26), Addison Russell (22), Bryant (24) , Heyward (26), Javier Baez (23), and Jorge Soler (24) – currently recovering from a hamstring injury. That’s not counting Kyle Schwarber (23), who’s lost for the year due to knee surgery.

The Cubs style of play works in any park, but their position players would be the best fit for Seattle’s home field. They’re athletic, get on base at a high rate, and play superb defense. That brings us back to the Emerald City’s major league baseball club.

Seattle Mariners
Considering the roster that Dipoto started with last September, he’s done well at improving the club’s center field defense and their ability to reach base in less than a year. But, much more needs to be done to reach his stated goal of using the Safeco Field dimensions as an advantage. Getting younger would be a good first step.

Youthful rosters don’t necessarily guarantee success on the field. Look no further than the Minnesota Twins, who are great example of a young club with a terrible win-loss record. Also, not every young player is a great athlete — refer to Jesus Montero’s stay in Seattle.

Still, acquiring talented, young, and athletic players is the best way to build a sustainable home field advantage in Seattle. Having such players is the primary reason that the Red Sox and Cubs are better fits for Safeco — they each boast a half dozen or more quality players under age-27.

Conversely, the Mariners are tied with the New York Yankees for the oldest group of position players and have used just four under the age of 27 this season — Ketel Marte, Luis Sardinas, Chris Taylor, and Mike Zunino. Marte is the lone significant contributor, while Sardinas and Zunino have spent most of the season in Tacoma and Taylor is no longer with the organization.

Whether roster changes begin within the next two weeks or after the season, they’ll need to happen in order to turn Dipoto’s vision into reality for future seasons. That means more players born during the first term of the Clinton administration and fewer defensively challenged players like Gutierrez, Smith, and Cruz patrolling the outfield.

Can the Mariners accomplish such a turnover prior to next Opening Day? It seems unlikely considering the current state of their roster and minor league system. Until they do though, other clubs will continue to be a better fit for Safeco Field.…

Cruz 2Seattle Mariners management must be ecstatic about the performance of Nelson Cruz since he signed with the ball club prior to the 2015 season. During his first year with the team, “Boomstick” slashed .302/.369/.566 slash, hit 44 home runs and was a Silver Slugger award winner. This season, he is — once again — an offensive force for Seattle.

Cruz’s superb play at the advanced age of 36 presents an interesting dilemma for the Mariners. Should they consider trading the slugger now to maximize his trade value?

Yes, it’s unlikely that the Mariners will deal Cruz during this season, especially if they believe they’re in contention. But, Seattle’s play over the last six weeks certainly leaves the door open to the possibility that club will be a seller prior to August 1 non-waiver trade deadline.

If that’s the case, why not trade Cruz now? Waiting until the offseason is certainly an option. But, his value will never be higher than it is right now. My suggestion of moving the star player now, or even in the offseason, is likely to make some Mariners fans see red. However, there are compelling reasons to deal the star slugger. The first one is his age.

No one can predict when Cruz — or any player over 35 — will deteriorate and lose significant value. The 12-year veteran has proven to be durable in recent years, playing over 150 games in each the last two seasons and he’s on track to do so again. But, it’s inevitable that his skills will begin to erode.

Am I saying that it’s a certainty that Boomstick will see his performance or health will fall of the proverbial cliff during the last two years of his contract? No. it’s possible that he’ll continue to perform, and be available, at a relatively high level. If he did so, he wouldn’t be alone.

Former Mariner Adrian Beltre (age-37) continues to pad his Hall of Fame resume with the Texas Rangers and the performance of Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz (40) has been phenomenal during his farewell tour. Victor Martinez (37), Carlos Beltran (39), and Jayson Werth (37) are more examples of players defying age with good seasons at the plate.

On the flip side, Matt Holliday, Albert Pujols, and Ryan Howard — all the same age as Cruz — have seen their respective production plummet due to age and/or injury. What if Cruz’s career takes a downward swing like this trio? Wouldn’t it be wise for Dipoto to avoid the risk of a fading Boomstick by dealing him now?

Even if Cruz can stiff-arm Father Time for a few more years, he’s no longer an asset in the field. Of all of the players I’ve mentioned thus far, Beltre is the only one who continues to excel with his glove. The defensive metrics for the remaining players suggests they’re below-average or worse fielders.

The Mariners could opt to make Cruz a full-time designated hitter like Ortiz and Martinez. I’ve advocated such a move in the past to preserve Cruz’s body. But, that brings me to the second reason for moving the four-time all-star. He’s not a good fit on a Jerry Dipoto roster.

Ever since arriving in Seattle, Dipoto has been attempting to improve his club’s outfield defense and create a more athletic, versatile roster. A full-time designated hitter and/or a below-average outfielder doesn’t help the 48-year-old executive achieve those goals. Couldn’t I argue that Dipoto’s philosophy led to the Mark Trumbo trade?

True, Trumbo has yet to prove he can be as consistently productive as Cruz. But, there are similarities in their style of play — both are above average power hitters with limited athleticism and below-average defensive skills. When Dipoto shipped Trumbo to the Baltimore Orioles last offseason, it was the second time he traded the slugger. If I’m right, why wouldn’t he consider dealing Boomstick too?

There are reasons to wait until the offseason to move Cruz. First and foremost, the club may not be convinced that they’re out of contention by the end of the month. Barring a complete meltdown or unforeseen injury setbacks, the Mariners may find themselves tantalizingly on the fringe of contention.

Cruz’s contract presents a few challenges too. He has a limited no-trade clause to eight teams. After this season, the clause expires giving the club more available trade partners. Also, delaying a trade until the offseason avoids the inevitable blow back from fans who haven’t sniffed the postseason since 2001.

On the other hand, Boomstick is set to make $28.5 million during the next two seasons and, as Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill suggested during last week’s Sandmeyer and Churchill podcast, clubs desperate to win now may be willing to absorb the slugger’s salary and assume the risk that he’ll age right before their eyes.

Do I think that the Mariners will move Nelson Cruz during the next two weeks? It’s not very likely. But, they should certainly consider it.

Even if Seattle makes the postseason, I suspect management will consider dismantling the roster and starting anew with players who better fit the Dipoto mold. Moving Cruz when his value is at its highest would be a good first step. There’s certainly a case to do so, even if it upsets fans.…

Not for nuthin’: A phrase uttered by New Yorkers to soften the blow prior to saying something that could be construed as offensive or too strong.

Late last year, Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz announced that he’d retire as a player at the conclusion of this season. As you’d expect, the outpouring of appreciation and affection for “Big Papi” has morphed his last season into a farewell tour.

The revelry is understandable. After all, Ortiz is an iconic player who embodies the rise of the Red Sox during the last decade or so. Since his arrival from the Minnesota Twins in 2003, Boston has won three World Series titles, which happens to be two more than the New York Yankees — their bitter rival.

No, I’m not from Boston, nor am I a “Sawx” fan. But, I root for players and it’s easy to pull for Ortiz. His baseball resume is impressive and — perhaps — it’ll earn him a plaque in Cooperstown someday. However, Big Papi’s brief speech at Fenway Park after the Boston Marathon bombing and his meeting with a little boy named Maverick undoubtedly makes him a Hall of Famer in the hearts and minds of millions.

Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz walks towards the finish line of the Boston Marathon during a parade in celebration of the baseball team's World Series win, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)By this point, some of you may be wondering why I’d choose a title suggesting that Boston’s designated hitter isn’t “clutch” when all I’ve done is heap praise on him up. I have my reasons and it’s possible that you’ll agree with me by the end of this piece — even if you’re a diehard Sawx fan. Just hear me out.

Consider this thought for a moment. Have you ever been waiting for important news, or maybe a package to arrive? Doesn’t it seem like time drags on more slowly until the news or package finally arrives? Time didn’t slow to a crawl; you just perceived it that way. The same happens with hitters who deliver during pressure situations.

When great ball players continuously get the big hit with the game on the line, they earn the label of “clutch performer.” But, that’s more perception than reality. That so-called clutch player is actually really good and consistent. They deliver regardless of the fans’ stress level or the anticipation created by a good play-by-play announcer. Don’t believe me? Please let me show you.

First, let’s look at Ortiz’s career numbers and see how they stack up against his high-leverage “clutch” production. Some of you may be surprised by the similarities.

David Ortiz Career Splits
Split PA BA OBP SLG OPS BB% K%
Career Totals 9808 .286 .380 .552 .931 13.1 17.4
High Leverage 1932 .291 .388 .551 .939 14.1 17.0

As you can see, Ortiz’s career totals are relatively the same as his stats during critical situations. Based on the praised routinely heaped upon the slugger by network talking heads and the Boston media, you’d expect vastly higher numbers when more was at stake. That’s not the case at all.

Those overemphasizing Ortiz’s performance in clutch situations are doing the 20-year veteran a disservice. His “clutchness” is rooted in his consistency. Big Papi is a great player all of the time, regardless of the circumstances.

High-leverage moments are better remembered by fans and given more attention by the media because everyone’s on the edge of their seat awaiting the outcome. That’s completely understandable, but players with clutch reputations don’t rise to the occasion. They simply play at the same brilliant level when the stakes are raised.

To make my point, let’s look at several other great players perceived as coming up big when the game was on the line. Since there were so many players to choose from, I used an unconventional method to canvas for names. I turned to Twitter.

Yes, social media isn’t exactly a reliable resource for data collection. But, I was looking for players perceived as clutch by fans. So, a random survey of the person on the street — or on tweet — made sense. See what I just did there? I acknowledge that my survey wasn’t exactly scientific. But, it was a fun, interactive way to get input for a story.

Career Splits of “Clutch” Players
Player Split PA BA OBP SLG OPS BB% SO%
Jeff Kent Career Totals 9537 .290 .356 .500 .855 8.4 16.0
High-Leverage 1826 .282 .354 .480 .834 8.9 17.6
 Craig Biggio Career Totals 12504 .281 .363 .433 .796 9.3 14.0
High-Leverage 2228 .279 .362 .412 .774 9.6 13.9
 Dustin Pedroia Career Totals 5969 .299  .365 .445  .810 9.2 9.6
High-Leverage 1001 .304 .379 .446 .825 11.0 10.6
Edgar Martinez Career Totals 8674 .312 .418 .515 .933 14.5 13.9
High-Leverage 1749 .313 .431 .511 .942 16.6 13.2
Smoky Burgess Career Totals 5013 .295 .362 .446 .807 9.5 5.4
High-Leverage 1278 .286 .369 .443 .802 12.0 5.2
Kirk Gibson   Career Totals 6656 .268 .352 .463 .815 10.8 19.3
High-Leverage 1301 .258 .342 .437 .779 10.8 20.0
Reggie Jackson Career Totals 11418 .262 .356 .490 .846 12.1 22.7
High-Leverage 2360 .273 .357 .498 .855 11.3 23.1

The players suggested are all familiar names and are quite random — really random. When was the last time you read a piece discussing Smoky Burgess? Nearly all are Hall of Famers or should be enshrined in Cooperstown.

As with Ortiz, each player was perceived by fans as being clutch, although they were just really good — great actually. The largest variance between any player’s high-leverage performance and career totals was with Kirk Gibson and his numbers aren’t exactly skewed. Considering he only averaged 96 games-per-season during his 17-year career due to injuries, I’m not surprised that his numbers aren’t as closely aligned as his peers.

Most of you have probably noticed by now that I didn’t cover a player mentioned in my tweet — Derek Jeter. Since the retired New York Yankees superstar was known as “Captain Clutch” and “Mr. November,” I thought that I’d quickly discuss the future Hall of Famer separately.

Derek Jeter Career Splits
Split PA BA OBP SLG OPS BB% SO%
Career Totals 12602 .310 .377 .440 .817 8.6 14.6
High-Leverage 2052 .310 .390 .418 .808 10.1 14.8

Jeter earned his “clutchy” nicknames partly from dramatic postseason plays — in the field and with his bat. As a grand finale to his wonderful career, the retired shortstop closed out his Yankee Stadium career with a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth inning. It’s easy to see why “The Captain” was perceived to be better under pressure.

Certainly, Jeter delivered some of the most unforgettable moments on the field during the last two decades. But, the future Hall of Famer’s stats during high-pressure situations are eerily similar to his overall career numbers. The bottom line is that Jeter was steadfastly superb under all conditions. That’s why he’s so well respected and has a date with Cooperstown.

Jeter 2Some of you may have noticed that I’ve yet to mention postseason play. There’s a reason. I’m not particularly fond of discussing playoff numbers because it requires wading in a small sample pool.

Of all of the players previously mentioned, only three have more than 300 postseason plate appearances — Jeter, Ortiz, and Reggie Jackson. It’s unreasonable to compare players who’ve had a limited number of playoff appearances to others with substantially more October experience.

For example, Ortiz’s teammate — Dustin Pedroia — has just 202 postseason plate appearances spread over four different years. Gibson, best remembered for his walk-off homer against Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley in game one of the 1988 World Series, has just 92 trips to the plate during the playoffs. Despite my misgivings, I’ve compiled a table with the postseason production for Jeter, Papi, and Reggie.

Postseason “Clutch” Players
Player Split PA BA OBP SLG OPS BB% SO%
 David Ortiz Career Totals 9808 .285 .379 .549 .928 13.1 17.4
Postseason 357 .295 .409 .553 .962 16.0 19.9
 Reggie Jackson Career Totals 11418 .262 .356 .490 .846 11.9 22.7
Postseason 318 .278 .358 .527 .885 10.4 22.0
 Derek Jeter Career Totals 12602 .310 .377 .440 .817 8.6 14.6
Postseason 734 .308 .374 .465 .838 9.0 18.4

Once again, the numbers are relatively close. Yes, Ortiz’s on-base percentage and batting average are elevated. But, not by much. Once again, we’re talking about very small sample size — his postseason plate appearances equals about a half-season spread over a decade.

Finally
As David Ortiz’s career comes to a close, I’ll remember him as a great player — not a clutch one. Perhaps, you won’t agree with me. Even if you disagree, I suggest you rooting for this great player as he closes out his distinguished career. You may not want him to help beat your team, but you could offer a respectful tip of your hat if he does.

That may be a tough pill to swallow for some diehard Yankees fans. But, Ortiz is much like Jeter. A local star who blossomed into an iconic figure within the sport. Whether Big Papi’s swan song turns out to be as memorable as Jeter’s remains to be seen. Although, one last great memory from a marvelous player would be apropos, wouldn’t it?

The Major League Baseball non-waiver trading deadline is nearing and Seattle Mariners fans are anxious to see how general manager Jerry Dipoto handles the club’s roster during his first “deadline season” in Seattle. With that in mind, I’ve been doing “primers” for each American League (AL) West division club to see how the club’s rivals stack up as the August 1 trade deadline approaches.

In recent days, I’ve discussed each of Seattle’s divisional rivals — the Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Angels, Houston Astros, and Texas Rangers. Now, it’s time to turn our attention to the the Mariners.

As mentioned in the earlier pieces, the trade market is certain to fluctuate greatly during the next six weeks. Some teams will go on a hot streak and feel like they have a chance, while others will stumble. In the end, all will have to decide whether to buy or sell and how aggressive they should be in the market.

The Mariners fall into the category of a “stumbler” and are an excellent example of how quickly a team’s trajectory can veer off course. After posting a 30-11 win-loss record during the first two months, Seattle is 6-13 since. The club’s recent spate of misfortune has probably influenced the opinion of some fans on whether the Mariners should be buyers or sellers.

For the purpose of this primer, I’m going to assume that the Mariners will be buyers. A month from now, their season may look much differently. For now, they’re still above the .500 mark and still very much alive in the divisional and wild card race. First, let’s talk about how Seattle entered their June tailspin.

What happened?
As with any baseball team — or season — there’s no one “thing” that leads to failure. In the case of the Mariners though, there’s one segment of the roster that’s clearly under-performed during the rough patch known as the month of June — their pitching. Look at the following table to see what I mean.

Mariners Run Production vs. Run Prevention
Month RS/Gm RA/Gm
Total W-L
W-L (+4 Runs scored)
W-L (Under 4 Runs Scored)
April 4.3 3.3 13-10 9-1 4-9
May 5.6 4.1 17-11 16-4 1-7
June 4.8 5.5 6-13 6-5 0-8

As you can see, there’s been a downward trend in runs allowed (RA/Gm) during month of the season. It’s true that club’s offense isn’t as robust in June when compared to their monster May, but it’s still averaging 4.8 RS/Gm. That should be plenty to win the majority of games.

For further proof, look at Seattle’s win-loss record when they’ve scored four or more runs during each month of the season. In April and May, the Mariners combined to go 25-5 in those games. In June, however, they’re barely over .500. In fact, the ball club hasn’t won a game when they’ve scored three or less runs this month. It’s always tough to win when a team scores three or less, but 0-8?

The declining effectiveness of the pitching staff is the root cause to the club’s June swoon. So, what’s the problem with the Mariners staff?

The ugly baby
The most apparent problem with the Mariners’ staff is the is the health of their starters. Many pundits and fans point to losing ace Felix Hernandez to the disabled list (DL) as the turning point. To a degree that’s true, but it’s a bit more complex.

Sure, losing King Felix hurts. But, his replacement — James Paxton — has performed admirably in the King’s absence. Look at the numbers of Felix’s last four starts prior to his calf injury compared to Paxton’s. There are relatively the same.

Felix Hernandez vs. James Paxton (Last three starts)
Player IP H
ER SO
BB
HR
AVG
Felix Hernandez 26.1 23 11 24 8 3 .235
James Paxton
26 28 4 27 8 1 .285

Am I suggesting that Paxton can replace Felix on a long-term basis? Of course not. But, the southpaw isn’t the problem. In fact, he’s been one of the team’s better pitchers in June.

The true pain from Felix’s absence has to do with the subsequent loss of Wade Miley to the DL and the ongoing injury issues with Taijuan Walker. With Paxton subbing for the King, he wasn’t available to fill in for Miley or Walker. That forced the Mariners to turn to Adrian Sampson to take Miley’s most recent turn.

The uncertainty surrounding Walker and the tendonitis affecting his right Achilles region will force Seattle to look to another hurler for Walker’s next scheduled start on Friday. Options include Mike Montgomery, newly acquired Zach Lee, and possibly Vidal Nuno.

Obviously, losing two and possibly three starters would be a major setback for any team. But, it’s been worse for the Mariners. Why? The team was forced to rely more heavily on a bullpen that wasn’t a strength entering the season.

The following table illustrates how the percent of workload has been slowly shifting from the starters to relievers with each passing month. Not coincidentally, the club’s win-loss record has worsened as the bullpen worked more innings. In June, the ugly baby finally appeared.

Mariners Pitching Workload Distribution and Results
Month SP IP
SP %
SP FIP
RP IP
RP %
RP FIP
April 143 69% 3.78 64 31% 3.15
May 161.1 64% 4.30 90.4 36% 3.38
June 104 61% 4.20 67 39% 5.1

As you can see, relievers are inheriting a larger workload. Unfortunately, they haven’t been able to deliver the results as a unit. I included their increasing fielding independent pitching (FIP) to make that point.

For those not familiar with FIP, it’s a metric that looks similar to earned run average (ERA), but only measures the outcomes that a pitcher can solely control — strikeouts, walks, hit batters, and home runs. I’m not trying to be a “saber-geek,” but FIP takes out the luck and defense so we can just focus on the pitchers during this conversation. If you want to know more about FIP, you can’t read about it here at FanGraphs.

Before getting into what the Mariners can do to fix themselves during the season, let’s discuss a few harsh realities facing general manager Jerry Dipoto.

Reality check
Seattle has limited resources available to use on the trade market. Their minor league system isn’t barren. However, it started the season ranked number-28 by Keith Law of ESPN.com. Just one prospect — Alex Jackson — ranked in the MLB.com Top-100. He came in at number-85.

After this month’s draft, the club’s number-11 overall pick —  Kyle Lewis — catapulted to second in Seattle’s system, according to Prospect Insider — ahead of Jackson.

Top prospect Tyler O’Neill is a rising star. Should the club consider trading the 21-year-old now? If they did, they’d be selling low. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Yes, the Mariners have a few pieces to sell and that’s the problem — they have FEW pieces. Moving O’Neill, Jackson, or Mike Zunino would bring some value back to Seattle. But, Dipoto would be selling low. He’s more accustomed to buying low.

Does this mean that the Mariners won’t be able to wheel and deal? Of course not. But, they’ll be vying for pieces coveted by market competitors — such as the Astros, Rangers, Boston Red Sox, and Chicago Cubs — who have many more prospects to offer during negotiations.

Reality check (Part two)
Let’s be honest, the Mariners entered the season as a fringe-contender capable of winning more games than they lost, but not many more games.

Thanks to a strong first two months, fan and pundit expectations for the club have soared. Now, the Mariners are leveling out. What’s changed since the start of the season? Nothing. The team is the same fringe-contender with an underwhelming bullpen. In a way, Seattle is exactly where they should be — hovering near the .500 mark.

Does that mean that club should give up on the season? No. But, selling the farm — if they had one to sell — for a shot at a potential one-game playoff would be short-sighted and unreasonable, especially for a general manager in his first season with a new organization.

Now that I’ve depressed and angered fans throughout the Pacific Northwest, what can be done to improve the Mariners pitchers and the rest of their roster? If it were up to me, I’d take a measured approach that attacked the following areas in this order — bullpen, corner outfield, rotation.

Bullpen
The biggest challenge facing the Mariners — other than limited resources — is that nearly every contender will be looking for relief help. That doesn’t mean that Seattle can’t find help. But, they’ll be facing steep competition.

We already know that Dipoto is innovative and previously fixed the 2014 Angels bullpen — they won 98 games that year. His cornerstone acquisition in 2014 was closer Huston Street. Perhaps, a reunion could take place.

The 32-year-old recently completed a five-week stint on the DL due to a strained left oblique. Assuming that he returns to form and the Angels and Mariners are willing to deal with each other — big assumption — Street would quickly improve Seattle’s bullpen. He’s set to make $9 million next season with a $10 million team option or $1 million buyout for 2018.

Having Street available would permit the Mariners manager Scott Servais to push incumbent closer Steve Cishek to the eighth inning. By doing so, Joaquin Benoit could become Servais’ seventh inning option. Suddenly, the bullpen has a different feel to it with Nick Vincent and Edwin Diaz being the primary middle relief options.

I know what some of you are thinking. Why not snag a big fish like New York Yankees setup man Andrew Miller? It does sounds appealing. After all, he’s flat out better than any Mariners reliever. Jim Bowden of ESPN.com even suggested Miller as a best fit for the Mariners not long ago. But, I don’t agree.

Bowden mentions that the Yankees would want a “young starter or young middle-of-the-order bat” in return for Miller. Who exactly is that in the Mariners organization? The guys that they can’t afford to squander on a reliever.

The same applies to Miller’s teammate — Aroldis Chapman. Having a closer capable of throwing 100-mph would be great. But, Seattle will be competing with clubs who have more valuable pieces to dangle in front of Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.

All of this assumes that the Bronx Bombers will be sellers. Considering that they haven’t registered a losing season since 1992, I don’t expect them to become sellers until very near the deadline. Even if the Mariners had the resources, can they wait that long?

If snagging a closer isn’t a doable do, the club could acquire relievers, who could help preserve save opportunities for Cishek. Dipoto could turn either to rentals or longer term options. Personally, I’d prefer the latter option.

I’m not going to name every possibility option, but I’ll mention the type of players that could make sense. The first one is familiar to Mariners fans — Fernando Rodney. Seattle’s former closer has been dealing for the San Diego Padres, who hold a $2 million option for 2017 with a $400 thousand buyout. Rodney is likely to be in high demand. Would the new regime bring back the “Fernando Rodney Experience” back to the Emerald City?

Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times recently suggested several trade options to help the Mariners, including their bullpen. Among the names was David Hernandez of the Philadelphia Phillies. The right-hander is having a good year pitching in the seventh inning with 11.6 strikeouts-per-nine innings during 32 appearances entering today.

Divish also suggested Daniel Hudson of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Hudson is serving as Arizona’s eighth inning setup man and has surrendered just .786 walks and hits-per-innings pitched. An intriguing factor with the 29-year-old — he was acquired by Dipoto during his first month as interim general manager of the Diamondbacks in July 2010.

Another player that the Mariners general manager is familiar with is Angels reliever Joe Smith, currently on the DL with a hamstring problem. Assuming he returns within a few weeks, Smith could be an option. The side-arm thrower wasn’t effective prior to his injury. If Smith proves to be back to his normal self, he’d be a good value as a middle-reliever.

If the Mariners wanted to expend more resources, there are options out there. Examples include Padres rookie Ryan Buchter, Arodys Vizcaino of the Atlanta Braves, and Tyler Thornburg and Jeremy Jeffress of the Milwaukee Brewers. All are having good years and come with with multiple years of team control.

Several relievers under team control through just next year include John Axford and Fernando Rodriguez of the Athletics and Fernando Abad of the Minnesota Twins. Each player is have varying degrees of value. They’d cost more than a rental, but less than the players with multiple years previously mentioned.

Divish noted that Jeanmar Gomez of the Philadelphia Phillies as a possible fit. He’s the team’s closer and has one more year of arbitration eligibility remaining. Gomez could help with the ninth inning or could take over the eighth inning.

Corner outfield
Mariners left fielder Norichika Aoki has been the target of fan scorn this season. The veteran has a league-average OBP of .322, but only 12 extra base hits coming into today. Plus, his outfield defense has been — at best — slightly below-average. Improving the left field spot, both offensively and defensively, may be a tall order.

Big names like Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, and Carlos Gonzalez could be available and are under team control for several years. Plus, there’s Carlos Beltran, who would be a rental. Each sounds sexy, but all have drawbacks.

Kemp is slashing .256/.274/.470 and owed nearly $64 million through the 2019 season — that’s not counting the $10.5 million that the Los Angeles Dodgers are chipping in. Even if the Padres were willing to pay some of Kemp’s contract, adding another regressing outfielder on the wrong side of age-30 would make zero sense.

Braun and Gonzalez are putting up good numbers, but the haul required to get them is realistically out of reach for the Mariners. Moreover, Braun is due to make over $80 million between now and the end of the 2020 season, when he’ll be 36 years-old. That doesn’t include the $15 million mutual option/$4 million for 2021. Getting older just doesn’t make sense.

Beltran would cost much less. But, when will the Yankees become sellers? Will they sell?

A lower profile name like Jon Jay of the Padres would make more sense. Yes, I’d rather see the team pick up a player with more control than Jay — he’s a free agent at the end of the season. However, he’s be a significant upgrade over Aoki. Entering today, the 31-year-old is slashing .296/.345/.407 slash and would present Servais with another center field option — if Leonys Martin were unavailable or needed a day off.

Tampa Bay Ray Steve Pearce would be an interesting option. Although he wouldn’t be a center field replacement. The versatile right-handed hitter has spent time at first base, second base, and both corner outfield spots during the last two seasons. Like Jay, he’ll be a free agent at season’s end.

Another potential corner outfield rental would be Josh Reddick of the Athletics. Reddick is currently on the DL due to a broken thumb, but he’s close to returning. Assuming that he’s back and healthy by the deadline, the 29-year-old would be a nice fit in right field.

Before his injury, the left-handed hitter was slashing .322/.394/.466, which were career highs. Even if he returned to his normal league-average numbers, he’d provide the Mariners with a better glove, arm, and bat.

Adding a right fielder, like Reddick, would actually help left field indirectly. Such a move would permit the Franklin Gutierrez/Seth Smith platoon to left field and significantly reduce the outfield time for Nelson Cruz. Essentially, adding one player would help both corner outfield spots.

Rotation
Here’s where I’m really going to get in trouble with Mariners fans. I recommend doing nothing with the rotation. At the most, make a minor deal late. Why do I feel that way?

To me, there’s no reason to use scarce resources on a starter. If there are any more significant issues with the starting staff, the Mariners aren’t likely to be serious contenders anyway. That probably doesn’t sit well with some Mariners faithful. But, it’s true.

As of today, Felix and Miley appear to be on track to return within the next month and there’s no indication that Walker’s problem is season ending. It’s quite possible all three could be back before or near the all-star break. Assuming that Seattle regains the trio without losing another starter, they’ll be in good shape with their starting pitching. Otherwise, there’s not much hope of postseason contention in 2016.

Finally
What I’ve presented is a plan for a team that’s two games over .500 entering today. For a club in that position, the best course of action would be to make incremental improvements to the roster without forsaking the future for a shot of instant gratification.

If the Mariners plummet during the next month, they’d be better served to consider being a seller at the deadline. Conversely, if they were soaring after the all-star break, leaning forward in a common sense way would be reasonable.

Fans don’t like to read or hear that kind of talk. But, it’s the best approach for a club that started the year as a fringe-contender.

AL West trade primer: Oakland Athletics

AL West trade primer: Los Angeles Angels

AL West trade primer: Houston Astros

AL West trade primer: Texas Rangers

MLB: AL Wild Card Game-Houston Astros at New York YankeesLast week, Jim Bowden of ESPN and the MLB Radio Network published a list of the 30 best players who could be on the move prior to the August 1 non-waiver trading deadline and where he thinks those players fit best.

For some, it’s a tad early to be discussing deals when the deadline is still two months away. Bowden realizes that too and refers to his list as “my first take of the year” on players who could be dealt. Yet, some fans — and writers — find it fun to speculate on deals that may never occur.

For those not familiar with Bowden, he’s served as general manager of the Cincinnati Reds and Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals and has a ton of contacts in the baseball industry. For Seattle Mariners fans, he’s the guy who sent Mike Cameron and others to Seattle in exchange for Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr.

Personally, I think the market is still immature. At this early stage of the season, there a plenty of clubs on the fringe of contention. Therefore, finding a partner willing to “sell” may be difficult to do, unless the club is currently in a rebuilding phase.

Still, there are those dying to discuss deals. To help satisfy the appetite of those hungry for trade talk, I’m going to discuss 14 players Bowden suggested as “best fits” for American League ball clubs. Enjoy.

Julio Teheran , SP, Atlanta Braves                                    Bowden: Boston Red Sox
Bowden points out in his piece that Teheran could be the most coveted pitcher at the deadline. The right-hander is owed a relatively low $25.3 million through the end of the 2019 season with a $12 million club option for 2020, his age-29 season.

Not only is the Braves hurler affordable, he’s performing well. Teheran has gone seven or more innings in six of his first 11 starts, his wins above replacement (WAR) ranks number-15 among major league starters, and his 2.77 earned run average (ERA) puts him in the same neighborhood with such familiar names as Marco Estrada, Felix Hernandez, Stephen Strasburg, and Jose Fernandez.

The Red Sox certainly would be a good fit for Teheran, but another club to keep an eye on is the Toronto Blue Jays. If Toronto opts to make another postseason push at this year’s deadline, adding another starting pitcher could be in the cards.

The Blue Jays staff has been performing relatively well, but the club has already acknowledged that starter Aaron Sanchez will end up the bullpen due to an innings limit — he’s never pitched over 133 innings as a professional.

Toronto has a new front office in place and they may be more reluctant with parting with prospects, as they did to get David Price last year. Although Teheran is not an elite pitcher like Price, he would be under team control for at least three more seasons, unlike Price who departed as a free agent at the end of last season.

Teheran may be the most sought after starting pitcher as Bowden suggests, but the Braves will have the upper hand in negotiations. With so much time remaining on his contract, Atlanta doesn’t have to rush to deal their star pitcher. They could opt to deal him in the offseason — when more suitors may be interested — or retain him to anchor their rotation.

Rich Hill, SP, Oakland Athletics                                          Bowden: Kansas City Royals
Seattle fans are very familiar with 36-year-old. Hill held the Mariners to just one run in 14 innings while striking out 16 and walking just one batter. It’s not just the Mariners. He’s held all opposing hitters to a .207 batting average.

If the Athletics don’t climb back into the playoff picture, they’ll likely trade several players — including Hill. Any contender looking to boost their rotation will have interest in the 12-year-veteran.

Unlike Teheran, Hill is a “rental player,” who’ll be a free agent at season’s end. For that reason, the southpaw who’s making $6 million this season won’t be as costly to acquire as the Braves’ top starter.

If Teheran isn’t available or too expensive for contenders, Hill instantly becomes the most attractive starter in the trade market. With that kind of negotiating advantage, it’s hard to believe that the Athletics would retain the pending free agent past August 1, if they continue to have a losing record.

As with Teheran, Hill could fill the void in Toronto’s rotation once Sanchez moves to the bullpen.

Another interested party could be the Red Sox. Hill has already had two tours of duty with Boston, including last year when he resurrected his big league career after starting the season pitching for Class-AAA Syracuse and the Independent League Long Island Ducks.

It’s worth noting that Hill suffered a “real mild groin strain,” according to manager Bob Melvin, during yesterday’s contest against the Detroit Tigers. Assuming this injury causes no setbacks; his trade value should remain unchanged.

James Shields, SP, San Diego Padres                              Bowden: Detroit Tigers
“Big Game James” is an intriguing trade candidate. He’s no longer a number-one starter, although he’s having a solid year with the Padres. But, his contract limits his trade value.

The right-hander is making $21 million this season and makes the same amount during the next two seasons. There’s also a $16 million option for 2019 — his age-37 season– with a $2 million buyout. In total, Shields stands to make at least $44 million between now and 2019, unless he opts out of his contract after this season.

That’s the second challenge with Shields’ contract — enticing a team to trade for a player who could potentially walk after this season. Considering that he had to wait so long to find a team during his last free agency — he didn’t sign until February 11, 2015 with the Padres — he may not want to test the market again. On the other hand, this year’s free agent market is very thin for starting pitching.

Clubs can find workarounds to challenges like Shields’ opt out, but it requires two amenable partners and a player willing to go along. That usually means the player has to get something in return for passing on his opt out.

As mentioned by Bowden, the Tigers make sense. So do the Red Sox. Both clubs have previously demonstrated a willingness to spend and could use a durable middle-of-the-rotation type — like Shields.

Another team to watch will be the Chicago White Sox. Jon Heyman of MLB Network has reported that the Chicago White Sox have shown interest in the right-hander.

As I alluded to at the onset, Shields’ contract will be an issue — even for ball clubs with deep pockets. To move the veteran starter, the Padres may have to include money to help offset his steep salary or expect to receive very little in return.

Jonathan Lucroy, C, Milwaukee Brewers                       Bowden: Tampa Bay Rays
The seven-year veteran turns 30 next month and the Brewers hold a relatively cheap $5.25 million club option on Lucroy for the 2017 season. So, any club acquiring the services of the right-handed hitter for about a year and a half.

Obviously, Milwaukee will be looking for prospects as they continue to rebuild. However, I’m not sure that the cash-strapped Rays would be willing to part ways with top prospects for an 18-month addition, who could be the team’s third highest player in 2017.

The Tigers, on the other hand, are more aggressive when it comes to making “win-now” deals and they aren’t getting much production from the catcher position. Once again, Boston makes sense too.

Derek Norris, C, Padres                                                        Bowden: Rays/Houston Astros
Coming into today’s action, Shield’s battery mate had a .182/.238/.338 triple-slash — significantly below his career norms, although it’s important to note that offense from the catcher position is secondary. The major league batting average for catchers stands at .234.

It’s worth noting that Norris has experience at first base and a career .286/.359/.479 triple-slash against southpaws.

The 27-year-old is making $2.9 million this year and is arbitration-eligible for the next two seasons, which may scare off clubs on a tight budget, unless they’re looking for a starting backstop. Once again, it’s hard for me to fathom the Rays being interested in adding payroll and parting with prospects to get a catcher who doesn’t necessarily represent a significant upgrade at the position.

The Astros are already experimenting with Evan Gattis at the catcher spot. Whether Houston would be amenable to acquiring Norris at the deadline would come down to their long-term plans for Gattis and their position in the standings.

If the Astros’ record improves and opt to move Gattis out of the catcher spot, they might be more inclined to go after Lucroy than Norris. After all, Milwaukee and Houston have a history as trade partners. Last July, the Astros picked up Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers in exchange for prospects.

Other trade possibilities could become reality, if a contender suffers an injury at the catcher spot. Norris would be a good addition for a contender who needs an injury fill-in or wants to add more depth to the position.

Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/DH, Blue Jays                           Bowden: Chicago White Sox
Another potential rental player is Encarnacion, who’s making $10 million this season. The 33-year-old is off to a sluggish start, as is his team. Bowden also suggested teammate Jose Bautista as a best fit with the Chicago Cubs.

It’s too early to tell whether Toronto will buy or sell — they have a 26-26 win-loss record entering today. However, Encarnacion to the White Sox makes sense, assuming his numbers improve. Otherwise, the “South-Siders” would be better to look for other options or stick with current designated hitter Avisail Garcia, who’s posted better slash numbers than Encarnacion.

If I was forced to place a wager, I’d bet that both Encarnacion and Bautista won’t be traded by the deadline. Both players are popular with fans and it’s unlikely that the Blue Jays will completely fall out of the postseason race by August 1.

Carlos Gonzalez, RF/LF, Colorado Rockies                   Bowden: Red Sox
When considering the production of Colorado players, the “Coors Field affect” has to enter the conversation. Gonzalez’s slash numbers are considerably lower when playing on the road, plus he’s making $17 million this season and due to make $20 million in 2017.

Moving “CarGo” this season would be a wise move for the rebuilding Rockies. Bowden suggested catcher Blake Swihart as a possible trade target from the Red Sox. However, getting arms would be a wise move for a club that’s struggled to entice elite free agent pitchers to come to Denver.

Gonzalez is a good player, not a superstar. Nevertheless, he’d be a considerable grade in left field for the Red Sox. Another destination that would make sense — from a baseball perspective — would be the Washington Nationals, who are getting very little production from a 37-year-old left fielder Jayson Werth.

From a business perspective, making the deal might be difficult. Werth will make $21 million next year, while Gonzalez will be earning $20 million. Werth, like CarGo will be a free agent after next season. But, I have an idea.

Perhaps, both teams could swap their high-paid players and the Nationals could throw in a few top-shelf pitching prospects to make the deal worthwhile for Colorado. That’s probably the wackiest trade proposal I’ve ever concocted. However, both teams would get something they need.

The Nationals get instantaneous help in their lineup for this year and next without disrupting their budget, while the Rockies get a few top prospects along with Werth, who makes approximately the same salary as CarGo.

Colorado did something similar last year when they traded Troy Tulowitzki and LaTroy Hawkins to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for highly paid shortstop Jose Reyes, reliever Miguel Castro, top-100 pitching prospect Jeff Hoffman and fellow minor leaguer Jesus Tinoco.

There’s probably no chance that this happens, but it was fun hatching that hair-brained that scheme. Okay, back to reality.

Josh Reddick, RF, Athletics                                                  Bowden: Royals
The A’s right fielder was off to a great start before fracturing his left thumb, while sliding into second base. Fortunately, for Reddick and Oakland, he’s projected to return by the end of June.

Like Hill, the eight-year veteran is a free agent at the end of the season and a likely trade chip, assuming Oakland can’t climb back into the postseason race.

Bowden projected that the Athletics would trade Reddick back to where he began his career — Boston. With that said, he’d be a nice fit with the Seattle Mariners from an offensive and defensive standpoint. The 29-year-old is a solid defender with one of the best arms in the game.

I don’t know if executive vice president Billy Beane and general manager David Forst would be willing to make a deal with a division rival during the season, but Reddick would be a nice addition for the Mariners.

It’s important to note that a hand injury can slow a hitter’s return to productiveness. I have no insight into the extent of Reddick’s injury, but his effectiveness at the plate bears watching after he returns. Certainly, possible suitors will be doing just that.

Yasiel Puig, RF, Los Angeles Dodgers                              Bowden: Royals/Athletics
Just 25-years-old, Puig has already produced an extensive highlight reel during four-year career. At other times though, he’s looked disinterested leading him to run afoul of managers and teammates. To top it off, his production numbers have declined in each of the last three seasons.

Despite the Dodger’s apparent frustration with Puig’s distinctive personality, the team could be reluctant to part ways with their mercurial outfielder. Trading him now would require the club to sell low with a player who has tremendous upside and is owed a relatively low $17.5 million for the next two seasons.

Perhaps, the change of scenery suggested by Bowden would be best. However, the Dodgers’ outfield production has been below league-average, which leads me to believe that they’d have to be blown away to part with their potentially best outfielder during a season when they’re trying to contend.

If the situation in Los Angeles has truly become untenable, the same actors — White Sox, Red Sox, and Tigers — may be willing to take a chance on Puig.

Melvin Upton Jr, LF/RF, Padres                                        Bowden: White Sox
The older brother of Detroit Tigers outfielder Justin Upton has experienced a nice bounce back after several down seasons with both the Padres and Braves. Bowden suggests that the 31-year-old would be an upgrade over current White Sox center fielder Austin Jackson, although I don’t necessarily agree.

Upton’s current triple-slash of .258/.323/.416 is slightly better than Jackson’s slash, but that’s a small sample size. Over the past three seasons, Jackson’s production has been better. Trading for a player on the wrong side of 30, who is two years older than the incumbent is, and set to make $16.5 million next year doesn’t add up.

For the Padres to move Upton, they’d likely have to help pay a good chunk of his salary or expect to receive little in return. Otherwise, I can’t see a contender dealing for his league-average production and exorbitant salary.

Andrew Miller, RP, New York Yankees                            Bowden: Seattle Mariners
The big left-hander has been thoroughly dominant. Currently the setup man for closer Aroldis Chapman, Miller would be closing for most teams in the majors.

There’s a big assumption with this suggestion by Bowden — the Yankees will be sellers. Considering the club hasn’t had a losing season since 1992, it’s tough for me to picture general manager Brian Cashman dealing the reliever this season.

If I’m wrong and Cashman opts to move veterans to help the future, snagging the 31-year-old — who’s making $9 million annually through 2018 — will be costly. The Yankees could simply opt to hold onto Miller, deal him in the offseason, or retain him to be their closer — if they opted to trade or not re-sign Chapman instead.

Bowden sees the Mariners as the best fit for Miller. There’s no doubt that the southpaw would significantly improve the back-end of Seattle’s bullpen, but does using so many resources and expending that much payroll to get one player sound like something that general manager Jerry Dipoto would do? His brief history in Seattle leads me to say “no.”

If Seattle is in contention, they’ll need to add more than one arm to the ‘pen, plus another corner outfielder. Using a significant amount of resources to acquire Miller — or any high profile player — would make it difficult for the club to get those additional pieces.

Perhaps, Cashman moves Chapman if he thinks he can grab a few pieces that could help his club this year and in the future. In the end though, I expect that both Miller and Chapman will end their season wearing Yankee pinstripes.

Fernando Rodney, RP, Padres                                              Bowden: Blue Jays
Seattle fans are probably rolling their eyes right now. After all, during his stay in Seattle, they dubbed Rodney’s relief appearances as the “Fernando Rodney Experience” due to the volatile nature of his outings. During this season in San Diego though, the 39-year-old has done a nice job of resurrecting his career after losing the Mariners closer job last year.

Not only is Rodney performing well, he’s affordable and comes with a low financial risk. He’s making $1.6 million this season and the Padres hold a $2 million team option for 2017, with a $400 thousand buyout.

Picking up the charismatic right-hander would be a good move for any contender looking to reinforce their bullpen depth, including the Seattle Mariners. My ears are already burning after that comment.

Joe Smith, RP, Los Angeles Angels                                    Bowden: Tigers
The side-arming reliever is a free agent after the season and has been filling in as the Angels closer during the absence of Huston Street.

Adding Smith should help bolster the bullpen of any contender, although it’s worth noting that the 32-year-old’s home run and walk rates are up and his strike out rate has decreased during this young season.

As a rental setup man, who’s not performing below career norms, Smith shouldn’t command a high price tag. Assuming that there’s no trade embargo going on between Dipoto and his former club, Smith would be another potential option for the Mariners.

Certainly, Dipoto is familiar with his former pitcher and the general manager has demonstrated an interest in bringing former players from his days in Los Angeles and Phoenix. Then again, he’s familiar with Street too.

Arodys Vizcaino, RP, Braves                                                   Bowden: Blue Jays
Trading a closer from one of the worst clubs in the majors makes sense. However, when he’s having a great season, is only 25-years-old, and under team control through the 2019 season, there’s no rush in moving him.

As with Teheran, the Braves would likely make a deal if they get a great offer. Alternatively, they can just wait until the offseason when there may be more suitors interested in their top reliever.

Final thoughts
While it’s fun and interesting to talk deadline deals on Memorial Day, a lot can change between now and August 1. Perhaps, the White Sox continue their free fall in the standings and the Mariners tank too. Maybe, the Toronto Blue Jays will catch fire as they did last year.

There’s also the possibility of injuries affecting sellers — as with Reddick and Hill — or buyers who lose a key player.

Still, I get it. Trade speculation is entertaining to many baseball fans. As the trade deadline gets closer, Prospect Insider will be providing ongoing analysis of potential and actual deals involving the Mariners and other major league clubs.

It’s going to be a fun summer.

 …

MiLBDespite the historic influx of impact rookies last season in Major League Baseball, the crop of prospects in 2016 again is strong. Some began the season in the majors and remain stalwarts, while others began the season there and either remain or have since been promoted.

I spent the past week digging, studying, calling, texting and emailing scouts that have seen the top talents to get their takes on the first month of the season for the game’s best prospects.

For context, I’m using Keith Law’s Top 100, since he’s the best in the industry evaluating young talent.

1. Corey Seager, SS — Los Angeles Dodgers
While the youngest Seager kid is the most talented, many expect him to eventually move to third base where his brother Kyle excels for Seattle. In the meantime, he’s handling shortstop and producing on the high end of the offensive spectrum for the position, sitting at .252/.322/.398 through 27 games.

There’s plenty more there for Seager, particularly in the batting average and slugging percentage areas, but he’s finding the barrel plenty, using the entire field and pitchers still haven’t found a real good way to get him out consistently, even though he now has nearly 230 plate appearances in the majors.

Seager officially graduated from prospectdom in April (130 official at-bats threshold) but stardom is next. If and when he slides over to third, there’s enough Longoria-level power in the swing and even better hand-eye suggesting Seager may settle in as a .280 or better hitter, likely producing .350 or better on-base marks along the way.

2. Byron Buxton, CF — Minnesota Twins
Buxton, 22, also now has surpassed the at-bats threshold for rookie status, but he has been shipped back to Triple-A after starting the year .156/.208/.289 with a 49 percent strikeout rate in 17 games.

The biggest issues are coming from Buxton’s plate discipline. He’s swinging and missing a lot, including nearly 20 percent of the time he offers at pitches in the strike zone. His out-of-zone rate is putrid at under 49 percent. For context, the major-league average in 2016 is 61.1 percent.

Buxton, said one Twins official, simply needs more time to learn about his swing and approach. One scout opined “he’s caught in between like he wants to sit on a specific pitch every pitch, rather than reading and reacting.” This combined with the chasing and swing-and-miss issue suggests pitch recognition is a rather large factor here.

Buxton remains an elite prospect with a superstar ceiling. In case you’re wondering, Mike Trout was awful in his first 123 at-bats in the majors, hitting .220/.281/.390 in 2011, when he league was actually batting .258/.322/.407 versus the .246/.313/.398 it’s posing now.

3. Lucas Giolito, RHP — Washington Nationals
Giolito had Tommy John surgery in 2012 and has skated through his rehab and return to the mound, often touching 98 mph and pitching comfortably at 96. After starting last season in extended spring training, the right-hander was dominant in the Carolina League at age 20 and flashed more of the same in the Eastern League later last summer. He began 2016 back at Double-A Harrisburg.

In five starts Giolito has had problems locating his fastball consistently, and the 70-grade curveball hasn’t been there for him with regularity, but scouts are loving his mound presence, how he’s managing baserunners and the raw stuff shows up in spurts between the control problems.

The Nationals’ future ace remains on track to break into the big leagues next season and the only reason 2016 is highly unlikely is workload. He threw 117 innings a year ago and the club may limit the former first-round pick to somewhere in the 140-inning range, give or take 5-10 innings or so and depending on Giolito’s status at the time.

Scout: “We haven’t really seen it yet (in ’16) but he’ll find it (command) and he may be one of the elite starters in the bigs by this time next year.”

4. J.P. Crawford, SS — Philadelphia Phillies
Crawford, a first-round pick just three years ago, has zoomed through the minors and may be on track for the majors as early as September of this season.

The left-handed hitting shortstop is a smooth glove and a polished bat for his age and experience and spent more than half of last season in the Double-A Eastern League at age 20. Crawford returned there to start 2016 and has not disappointed. He’s batting .279/.421/.395 in 23 games with the lone negative dynamic from one scout’s report being “he was too selective in this series,” referring to Crawford potentially taking strikes he could be hitting into the gap.

He won’t be 22 until next January, but he’s not long for the minors and could be the next young star the Phillies ride into contention sooner than later. Odubel Herrera, Vincent Velasquez, Aaron Nola and Maikel Franco will welcome Crawford with open arms and challenge the Mets and Nationals as soon as 2018.

5. Julio Urias, LHP — Los Angeles Dodgers
Urias is fresh off six no-hit innings versus New Orleans. Yes, that’s Triple-A New Orleans and Urias is 19 years old for almost the entire minor league season.

Urias throws a rather easy 95 mph fastball, commanding well at 91-94 with two plus pitches in a curveball and changeup. He repeats well, per Law’s report, and he’s grown out of a soft, stocky build to 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds. He’s yet to get to 100 pitches in a single outing and has generally been held to 80 or fewer this season, suggesting he’s at least a year away from starting in the big leagues. But he’s dominating Pacific Coast League batters — 29-3 K/BB ratio and a .163 opponents batting average — and may not be far behind Giolito in joining baseball’s next wave of young pitching stars.

There’s no question the stuff and delivery project to ace status. The only question is when he arrives.

6. Tyler Glasnow, RHP — Pittsburgh Pirates
Glasnow has struggled some with his command and control in five starts this season, but the stuff has been as advertised, touching 96 mph and spinning a plus curveball.

He’s yet to show a useful changeup with any consistency, suggesting his first time in the majors could be spent in the Pirates bullpen in a pennant race, but considering the early-season performance of both Jeff Locke and Jonathon Niese, Glasnow likely is an upgrade over one if not both.

Scout: “I’d be worried about his ability to get through five or six consistently,” said one scout of Glasnow’s current projection in the big leagues.

7. Rafael Devers, 3B — Boston Red Sox
Devers, 19, is the highest rated prospect that started the 2016 season lower than the Double-A, and the Carolina League has been a challenge for the left-handed hitting Dominican native. Devers batted .144/.245/278 in 24 games through May 4, but seven of his 13 hits have gone for extra bases and he’s drawn 12 walks versus 17 strikeouts.

Devers may stay in Salem all season as he not only works on the hit tool — and a swing that gets loopy — and his defense at third base. As Law writes, Devers has a big-time arm, great hands and is agile despite being considered “big” for being just six feet tall.

One thing to watch for with Devers is his work versus left-handed pitching. While the numbers in 2015 don’t look great, he did bat .252 versus southpaws as an 18-year-old in the Sally League. It will take some time, but the power and ability to make contact will win out in the end. He’s probably 2-3 years from the majors, but likely cuts down Travis Shaw‘s maximum stranglehold on the hot corner at Fenway at three seasons.

8. Alex Reyes, RHP — St. Louis Cardinals
Reyes has yet to pitch in 2016 as he serves out his 50-game suspension for testing positive for a drug of abuse (marijuana) — not a performance enhancing substance.

Reyes should make his debut in the lower minors sometime in late May and eventually — and likely quickly — work his way to Triple-A Memphis. He’s just 21 with a projectable frame at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds and already sits 93-98 mph and has hit 100 in the past. He has tremendous arm speed and the ball explodes out his hand with late life all over the zone and some armside run.

He did have a bout of shoulder soreness that cut about a month off his season a year ago, which mat be the only true concern moving forward. Law sees an ETA of 2017 as reasonable, though if he’s healthy he may have innings left for some kind of role later this season since his season will get started late.

9. Nomar Mazara, OF — Texas Rangers
Mazar exited the 2015 season with a lot of positives in his pocket at age 20 and now that he’s a just-turned 21-year-old big leaguers, the knocks have gone away.

Mazara has not showed the tendency to get out on his front foot and he’s used the middle of the field and gone the other way with two strikes. The left-handed batter went 6-for-12 with a homer in three games in Triple-A Round Rock before Shin-Soo Choo‘s injury landed him the majors. In 21 games with the Rangers, Mazara has been terrific, hammering three long balls and batting .325 with eight walks to balance out a reasonable 16 punch outs in 90 plate appearances. He’s also played a strong right field.

When Choo is ready to return, he should DH, perhaps even part time, and the Rangers should consider moving Ian Desmond in a deal to a team needing a shortstop.

10. Orlando Arcia, SS — Milwaukee Brewers
While the Brewers are likely even further away from contention than are the Phillies, Arcia is ahead of Crawford by a few months or more in terms of development. There are some similarities between the two, but Arcia doesn’t come with quite the upside, instead trading probability and the aforementioned timetable advantage.

Arcia is an above-average runner with above-average range and arm and a tremendous ability to come in on slow rollers and handle everything around the bag with big-time instincts. He’s not without power at the plate, perhaps reaching double figures in home runs while reaching the gaps regularly, but he’s aggressive and isn’t likely to post big OBP numbers, at least early in his career. This is what separates Crawford from Arcia in the long run.

Arcia’s at Triple-A Colorado Springs batting .304/.333/.435 in 23 games. He may need less than half of this season to prove he’s ready for the majors, but it’s unclear what the Brewers’ plan for him is considering their present status as a no-chance bottom feeder in the National League.…

In an age of free agency and mobile players, few major leaguers last enough with one club to earn the venerable status of “face of the franchise.” The kind of players I’m referring to not only have been with a team for at least a decade, but also have become the cornerstone of the organization through acts of goodwill and exceptional performance on the field.

Fans fortunate enough to have such a player on their favorite team’s roster probably feel grateful to have them represent their ball club and city. But, what happens when that face begins to lose his luster and show his age?

Depending on the emotional equity that the player has earned through the years, it’s reasonable to believe that most fans will be willing to fail to notice their natural decline. Look no further than the Bronx for a most recent and prominent example of such a phenomenon.

Number two
On the last day of the 2014 regular season, New York Yankees great Derek Jeter was facing Clay Buchholz of the Boston Red Sox in the top of the third inning at Fenway Park. After falling behind one ball and two strikes to Buchholz, Jeter plated Ichiro Suzuki with a high chopper to third baseman Garin Cecchini.

During previous years, Jeter’s single may have affected the postseason fortunes of either club, but not in 2014. Both the Yankees and Red Sox were well out of contention and just playing out the season on that sunny day in Boston. That’s not to say that Jeter’s single wasn’t significant; his plate appearance against Buchholz would be the last of his storied career.

When Yankees manager Joe Girardi — a former teammate of Jeter’s — replaced the future Hall of Famer with a pinch runner after that run-scoring single, the team’s captain received a poignant send-off from the Fenway crowd. It had been an emotional week for Jeter, who had previously announced that 2014 would be the last season of his 20-year career.

Just three days prior, the veteran shortstop’s last hit at Yankee Stadium was a dramatic walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth inning after his team had blown a three-run lead to the Baltimore Orioles in the top half of inning. Would you expect anything less from a player nicknamed “Captain Clutch?”

The truth hurts
Although fans succumbed to the nostalgia surrounding the Jeter farewell tour, the media wasn’t necessarily as captivated during his final year in the majors.

Early in the season, Ted Berg of USA Today predicted that Jeter’s defense would cost the Yankees. Joel Sherman of the New York Post opined in early September that Girardi needed to reduce Jeter’s role. That’s just a small sample of the criticism that columnists and bloggers delivered during the retiring shortstop’s final season.

Jeter 2 Some fans may not have liked reading those kind of comments, but the pundits were correct to point out that Jeter’s star was no longer shining brightly.

Yankee lovers — and baseball fans in general — can find a measure of comfort in one clear-cut certainty. By the time Jeter is formally enshrined at Cooperstown in the summer of 2020, the thrilling conclusion to his magnificent career will be all that anyone remembers about his last year in the majors.

Irreconcilable differences
Although fans are happy when a player of Jeter’s ilk finishes his career where he started, they want their teams to win championships. Having a face of the franchise on the decline taking a roster spot could hurt the team, as both Berg and Sherman suggested about Jeter.

One could make the case that a sense of misguided sentimentality prevented the Yankees from finishing closer to a wild card berth during Jeter’s last season. The rationale being that a little less Jeter could’ve led to a few more wins and postseason play. That’s a tough sell for me.

Remember, management never found an adequate replacement for departed free agent Robinson Cano. They didn’t have one in 2015 either. Carlos Beltran had a sub-par year — worse than Jeter’s. Finally, let’s not forget that Alex Rodriguez missed the entire season due to suspension. In the end, I don’t think that the casual Yankee fan cared; they just wanted one more year of Captain Clutch.

Next farewell tour
Boston’s David Ortiz will end his career with “the Sawx” after this coming season. “Big Papi” didn’t start his career in Beantown, but he’s now considered a community ambassador, especially after his remarks at Fenway after the Boston Marathon bombing.

The R-rated comment delivered by Ortiz during that brief speech further elevated his already iconic status throughout New England. Only time will tell whether he’ll be able to replicate Jeter’s season-ending heroics. Without doubt, his last trip to Yankee Stadium and his last home stand will be “must see” events.

What if Ortiz gets off to a slow start in 2016 or struggles as the season progresses? How will the media react? Probably in the same manner as they did during Jeter’s last season — by telling the truth.

How about fans? If Papi is scuffling and Boston is in a pennant race, would fans prefer to see him play or ride the bench? This quandary is always possible when the face of the franchise gets long in the tooth.

I suspect that Boston fans will treat Ortiz the same way as Yankee fans did Jeter; they’ll shower him with an outpouring of affection of support regardless of his performance. Both players helped provide many extraordinary moments — and World Series rings – to their respective towns. That helps fans overlook a few blemishes at the end of the line.

The next wave
It’s easy to see how fans would tolerate the decline of stars like Jeter and Ortiz — their final season was at age-40. But, what about franchise faces who’ll see their contracts expire at a younger age? The decision to retain these players won’t be as easy for their respective organizations. Is it possible that fans would be less enthusiastic about keeping a fading star in his mid-thirties, compared to a 40-year-old?

Here are a few players who could fall into the category that I just described. All will be age-30 or older during the upcoming season and are considered the face of their respective franchise.

Player Age Tm 2015 WAR Contract terms Contract ends at age
Dustin Pedroia 32 BOS 2.0 6 yrs / $85M (2016-21) 37
David Wright 33 NYM 0.5 14 yrs / $192M (2007-20) 37
Yadier Molina 33 STL 1.4 10 yrs / $96.5M (2008-17)   34*
Joe Mauer 32 MIN 1.5 8 yrs / $184M (2011-18) 35
Felix Hernandez 30 SEA 4.4 7 yrs / $175M (2013-19)   33*
* Team or player holds an option for an extra year after this age

Diminishing returns
The heir apparent as Boston’s torchbearer is second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who suffered through a tough 2015 season due to injury. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s about to take a nose dive, although the Boston media has already begun to ask whether the “Laser Show” has started to decline.

Pedroia’s hard-nosed playing style has made him an endearing figure in the eyes of Boston fans, but that same gritty approach could eventually accelerate the deterioration of his outstanding skills. The 10-year veteran is under contract with the Red Sox through his age-37 season.

New York Mets third baseman David Wright only played in 38 games last season due to a spinal stenosis diagnosis and has averaged just 95 games during the last three years. Some scribes have already asked whether “Captain America’s” stenosis could affect his career length and, consequently, his Hall of Fame chances.

Two players who started out as catchers — St. Louis Cardinal Yadier Molina and Minnesota Twin Joe Mauer — have begun to show the negative effects of wearing the tools of ignorance for so many years. Molina’s offensive numbers have dropped over the last three seasons and he was limited, due to a thumb injury, during the 2015 postseason.

Mauer — a St Paul, Minnesota native — no longer catches due to concussion problems. Now, he patrols first base for the Twins. Like Molina, he’s seen his offensive stats decline since 2013.

Long live the King?
Seattle Mariners’ ace Felix Hernandez is one of the best pitchers in baseball and he took less money to stay with the only team that he ever knew. Why wouldn’t a fan base love this guy?

Hernandez — whose contract expires after his age-33 season — hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down, but he’ll be on the “wrong side of thirty” by the Mariners’ first home stand ends this season. It’s inevitable that the former Cy Young award winner will start to lose his edge. But, what should the club do when his deal expires?

The Mariners hold an option that they can exercise if Felix spends more than 130 consecutive days on the disabled list due to surgery — or any other procedure — on his right elbow. Basically, he’s a free agent after 2019 if he stays healthy. If he has elbow issues, the team can keep him for 2020 at a very team-friendly price.

It takes two to tango
In 2010, re-signing Jeter probably seemed like a “no-brainer” to the typical Yankee fan. Although he was starting to show signs of decline at the plate and his fielding numbers were below average, he was still a valuable contributor. But, that doesn’t mean everything went swimmingly between management and the player.

Reportedly, Jeter wasn’t a happy camper during his contract extension negotiations with the Yankees. Although he eventually stayed in the Bronx, it’s been reported that the negotiations led to a chill be between Jeter and general manager Brian Cashman.

Affairs of the heart
As we saw with Jeter, the aging face isn’t necessarily smiling when the business of baseball tramples on a decade of goodwill. Pedroia, Wright, Molina, Mauer, and Hernandez could face a similar tact from their respective organization’s management. “Thanks for the memories. But, we reward production.”

Both Pedroia and Wright will be 37-years-old when their deals expire. What happens if they want to continue being a starter, but their team prefers to use them in a more limited role? Maybe, they’re blocking the progress of an up-and-coming prospect. How will Red Sox and Mets fans want their team to handle their franchise icon?

Molina’s and Mauer’s contracts conclude after their age-35 season. From a baseball business perspective, both the Cardinals and Twins would be wise to move on from their long-time stars at that time or — at the very least — lessen their role with the ball club. As with Pedroia and Wright, would the players be willing to accept less playing time?

Say for a moment that Felix maintains his health and is a free agent in the autumn of 2019. Should the Mariners retain him and at what cost? The emotional response is an emphatic “yes!”

After living in the Pacific Northwest for the last seven years, I understand why Mariners fans would feel so strongly about Felix. When his deal expires, he’ll have been with Seattle for 15 seasons; that would rank second to should-be Hall of Famer Edgar Martinez (18).

Despite the love affair that the Emerald City has with their King, the team could potentially face a challenge with re-signing their star pitcher. What happens if his contract demands exceed the value of a 34-year-old pitcher with 15 big league seasons under his belt?

I know that sounds cold-hearted, but it’s a factor to consider. As we saw with Hisashi Iwakuma, the Mariners had a predetermined limit on years and dollars that they wouldn’t exceed. In Iwakuma’s case, the team wasn’t comfortable with three guaranteed seasons due to his health history. Could Seattle reach a similar impasse with the face of their franchise?

This tidbit may make Felix fans cringe a little. In the last 50 years, only five of 29 Hall of Fame pitchers have spent their entire career with one team — Bob Gibson, Jim Palmer, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and Whitey Ford. Only Palmer played during in the free agent era.

The sad goodbye
A somber truth awaits fans; their favorite baseball player could hang up their cleats for the final time in a different city. Team supporters want to believe that their icon wouldn’t leave, but history shows that even the greatest players will occasionally leave as the end nears.

Iconic names like Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, and Hank Aaron all finished their memorable careers in an indistinguishable manner with another team. If they could end up somewhere else, why couldn’t Felix Hernandez or Dustin Pedroia?

Does that mean that the players I’ve mentioned are destined to leave the only team that they’ve known? Of course not. However, it’s worth noting that it takes two things to happen for a player to remain with a team; the player has to want to stay and the team has to want to the player to stay.

On the surface, that sounds like an easy proposition. However, agreeing to terms when millions of dollars are involved isn’t necessarily easy. Refer back to the aftermath of the Jeter negotiations as an example of how long-standing relationships can go sideways when factors such as ego and economics come into play.

My advice to baseball fans is simple. Enjoy your stars while you have them and wish them well if they opt to leave. Professional sports has been — and always will be — a business first. That’s why good organizations don’t feel the tug of heartstrings — like their fans do — when it comes to making these tough decisions. Even if an aging face of the franchise is involved.…

There’s a groundswell of unease taking hold of Major League Baseball (MLB). Both executives and pundits alike are expressing concern that the league is facing a problem that, if not addressed, could jeopardize the integrity of the game and ultimately lead to a loss of fan confidence. When Jayson Stark of ESPN wrote about the sport’s dilemma in January, an unnamed team official stated, “I’ve never seen the game so messed up.”

What predicament could possibly be so troublesome that it would spur such pessimistic commentary from a baseball official? Believe it or not, tanking in baseball.

For the casual sports fan, “tanking” carries a negative connotation and is typically used to characterize a strategy to “tank” games or seasons by deliberately building a non-competitive roster. Essentially, lose today in order to have a brighter tomorrow.

Baseball’s “tankers”
Those who believe that tanking is “a thing” in MLB, generally point to a couple of organizations — the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs — as recent examples of clubs that tanked their way to the top.

After languishing at the bottom of the standings for several years, both teams started anew in 2011 by hiring new front office personnel who set out to overhaul their respective rosters. Five years later, Houston and Chicago are now poised to be serious postseason contenders in 2016 and beyond.

The success of the Astros and Cubs has helped ignite concerns that other clubs are now adopting the tactic of tanking. The teams most frequently referred to as “tankers” are the Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds, and Milwaukee Brewers. All of these organizations have been shedding payroll and trading veterans for prospects; each projects to do poorly during the upcoming season, according to FanGraphs projections.

Why the anxiety?
The heart of the matter is how the appearance of intentional losing could damage the reputation of MLB. Joel Sherman of the New York Post points out that baseball has vigorously worked to safeguard its integrity ever since the Black Sox Scandal. As Sherman notes, a key principle to protecting the league’s brand is advancing the expectation that every team is trying to win every game.

The integrity of baseball isn’t all that’s at stake, apparently. The simple pleasure of watching MLB games is at risk according to Jeff Gordon of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Gordon opined that the Cardinals try to win every year and that “Our National Pastime would be far more enjoyable if every other team shared that ambition.”

Based on the passionate outcry from these insiders and others, a casual observer might conclude that baseball is facing a new threat as ominous as the previously mentioned Black Sox Scandal, the lost 1994 postseason, or the steroid era. Fortunately for the sport and its fans, what’s going on in baseball is neither new, nor a threat to the game.

Not for nuthin’
I respect the writers I’ve mentioned, but the term “tanking” is hyperbolic click-bait that’s led to misplaced outrage. In reality, the types of overhauls performed in Houston and on the north side of Chicago aren’t new to MLB. Why is that so hard to see?

The Braves, Brewers, Phillies, and Reds have made the unpopular move of announcing to their faithful that are they’re in a rebuilding phase — that’s not tanking. By being upfront, these clubs aren’t impinging on the integrity of the game and they’re not permanently damaging their relationship with fans.

A review of league standings and playoff participants over the last decade points to something far more questionable than a few teams “blowing up” their rosters and starting over — prolonged inferior performance by teams not mentioned during tank-talk. Please, give me an opportunity to show you why I feel this way.

Clunking
Why haven’t the caretakers of the baseball’s reputation, who’ve decried the pitfalls of tanking, been equally vocal about the long postseason droughts of the Seattle Mariners, Miami Marlins, San Diego Padres, Chicago White Sox, and Colorado Rockies?

These “clunkers” have been out of serious contention for much longer than the accused tankers — several have failed to enact a clear-cut plan to become relevant again. Isn’t “clunking” worse for MLB than the “tanking” that’s allegedly going on?

If maintaining competitive balance and fostering credibility with baseball fans are truly key objectives for the guardians of the game, shouldn’t complicity mediocre organizations be the targets of more scrutiny? In a couple of cases, clunkers have produced an inferior on-field product for over a decade. Look at the postseason drought “leader board” to see what I mean.

Longest MLB Postseason Droughts
Years Team Last PO Appearance .500 or better seasons (since 2011) Est. 2016 Payroll
14 Seattle Mariners 2001 ALCS
One $141M
12 Miami Marlins 2003 World Series
Zero $64.4M
9 San Diego Padres 2006 NLDS
One $102.5M
7 Chicago White Sox 2008 ALDS
One $127M
6 Colorado Rockies 2009 NLDS
Zero $109.9M
5 Minnesota Twins 2010 ALDS
One $108.2M
4 Arizona Diamondbacks 2011 NLDS
Three $99.9M
4 Philadelphia Phillies 2011 NLDS
Two $101.5M
4 Milwaukee Brewers 2011 NLCS
Three $63.4M

It’s somewhat ironic that alleged tankers receive so much attention, although the Marlins blew up their roster after winning the 2003 World Series and haven’t been back to the postseason since.

Two of the current teams viewed as tankers — the Phillies and Brewers — have made a combined seven postseason appearances since the Marlins and Mariners last played October baseball — which was during the first presidential term of George W. Bush. Yet, the overhaul of the Phillies is more detrimental to the sport? I bet the baseball fans in the Pacific Northwest and south Florida would disagree.

One could contend that the Mariners and White Sox, unlike some of the team listed above, have been willing to spend money. That’s true. However, neither club has been able to buy a winning roster.

Then, there are the Padres and Rockies. Neither projects as contenders this year, nor do they appear to be heading towards a cure for their perpetual case of the doldrums. How can anyone be anxious about so-called tankers when so many other teams have been second-rate — or clunking — for so long?

How bad is it, really?
So, just how “messed up” is baseball right now? Based on the statements from the pundits, you’d expect to discover that the number of 90-loss and 100-loss teams has been steadily climbing, right? Well, not really.

A Decade of Losing
Year # of 90-loss teams 100-loss teams
2006 6 TBD/KCR
2007 8 None
2008 7 WSN/SEA
2009 7 WSN
2010 7 PIT/SEA
2011 9 HOU
2012 8 HOU/CHI
2013 6 HOU/MIA
2014 6 None
2015 7 None

The number of bad teams has remained relatively the same over the past decade. It’s also worthwhile noting that there hasn’t been a 100-loss team during the last two seasons. That’s the first time since 1999-2000 that MLB has gone two consecutive seasons without a 100-loss team. Perhaps, the sky isn’t falling.

With that said, I’m sure that seeing the above table further infuriates the fan bases of the Mariners and Marlins. They are the only two franchises listed that haven’t returned to the postseason since their last 100-loss season.

Everyone does it, right?
When discussing tanking, both Sherman and Gordon emphasized that it’s critical for MLB teams to present their best roster for the entire season. That’s a noble thought, but what about the clubs that start the season believing they have a shot at the playoffs until reality sets in?

At the start of last season, the Detroit Tigers were — once again — serious postseason contenders. When things didn’t work out as planned, the team opted to become “sellers” at the trade deadline. Detroit traded ace David Price, closer Joakim Soria, and star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to three postseason contenders.

On July 31, the Tigers were 3.5 games away from the second wild card berth with 58 games remaining. Yet, they traded away three of their best players. Why doesn’t that doesn’t that constitute a tank job? Where’s the outrage?

When Detroit signaled they were sacrificing 2015 in order to be better in the future. I don’t recall any writers or executives decrying the impact of their moves on the competitive balance of their remaining schedule. Yet, some pundits fretted when the Phillies traded away their ace — Cole Hamels — to the Texas Rangers at the same trading deadline?

To be fair, both Price, Soria, and Cespedes were about to become free agents, while Hamels is under contract until 2020. So, there’s a distinction between the players’ situations. Nevertheless, Detroit could’ve kept all three players, tried to win as many games during the remainder of 2015, and then attempt to retain all three. After all, they’re a “win-now” type of ball club. Right?

Instead, the Tigers opted to deal players and finish poorly and “earn” a top-10 protected draft choice, just like the Phillies.

The Boston Red Sox took a similar stance in 2014. The club dealt pitchers John Lackey, Jake Peavy, Jon Lester, Andrew Miller, outfielder Jonny Gomes and shortstop Stephen Drew at the deadline when they were hopelessly out of contention.

Yes, Boston picked up Cespedes, outfielder Allen Craig, and reliever Joe Kelly in the deals. However, didn’t the “Sawx” symbolically throw in the white towel for 2014 when they parted ways with their ace and their best reliever? Why wouldn’t that be tanking?

Some may argue that the Red Sox and Tigers are win-now teams, unlike to the tankers expected to sink to the bottom this year. That may be true, but Boston’s 2014 purge didn’t lead to a winning 2015.

What if Detroit suffers a similar fate and is out of contention by mid-July? Will they sell again? How many years does a team have to be a seller at the deadline before they’re a tanker?

Don’t get me wrong. The Tigers and Red Sox made wise choices by being sellers at the deadline. So did the Phillies in dealing Hamels. To me, these deals are all the same. Teams are taking advantage of an opportunity to improve their rosters for the future, even if it means not fielding the best roster possible for the current season.

One last thought on building the best roster possible for the entire season. If maintaining the highest level of quality on the field is paramount, why does the league permit their teams to dilute their major league rosters by expanding from 25 to 40 players on September 1?

Reality check
As for that executive who had never saw “the game more messed up,” I didn’t need to look back decades for examples of when baseball was less competitive. Try five years ago.

In 2011 — the year that the Astros and Cubs changed leadership and started their alleged tanking — the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals franchise ended a 30-year playoff drought. The Nats weren’t alone in enduring postseason futility at that time. The Baltimore Orioles (14 years), Toronto Blue Jays (18 years), Pittsburgh Pirates (19 years), and Kansas City Royals (26 years) were still in the midst of their postseason droughts.

Since then, the Orioles, Pirates, Blue Jays, and the Royals have reached the postseason, just as the Astros and Cubs did in 2015. So, no, the game isn’t more messed up than ever.

Finally
Clearly, fans in Atlanta, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia aren’t ecstatic with the thought of watching their team plod through successive losing seasons. I’m sure that game attendance will suffer and fan patience will eventually wear thin.

At least teams that are attempting to kick-start themselves provide some measure of hope to their respective fan bases. It’s certainly a better alternative than what’s been transpiring in Seattle, Miami, Denver, San Diego, and the south side of Chicago.

Baseball teams mired in mediocrity for extensive periods will eventually see their fans migrate away and become infatuated with other options on the sports menu, such as NFL preseason or professional soccer. Seattle is an excellent case study of that phenomenon.

Only time will tell if teams, like the Mariners, can re-earn the trust of those who walked away or never became interested due their failure to be relevant for so long. When you look at it from that perspective, “tanking” for three to five years and then becoming a sustainable winner doesn’t seem so bad anymore, does it?

 

 

 

 

 

 …

Wade MileyIt was just a few weeks ago that the Seattle Mariners had Wade Miley penciled in as the club’s No. 2 starter, largely in rotation place given the uncertainty beyond Felix Hernandez. Fast-forward those few weeks and a Hisashi Iwakuma re-signing, and that situation isn’t all that different. The club still doesn’t have a true No. 2 starter, but that shouldn’t take away from the value that Miley does provide going forward.

First, the order in which the rotation falls is largely irrelevant. Back in 2014, James Paxton was the club’s No. 2 starter. Teams order their rotation based on skill — you want your best starters to have the most opportunities — but handedness, match-ups, and other factors are taken into consideration. Miley and Iwakuma are the second and third starters on the depth chart right and depending

Secondly, unless he replicates his 2012 season with Arizona, Miley isn’t going to fill the role of a No. 2 starter. With very good command of a balanced repertoire instead of an out-pitch or two, he better resembles a mid-rotation arm. In a deep rotation he profiles as a No. 4, but he could easily be a solid No. 3. I think that’s realistically what the club expects out of him; they aren’t going to ask him to be something he’s not.

Still, Miley has several things working in his favor heading into 2016.

The first one that gets brought up is his move to Safeco Field. Though the fences were moved in four years ago, according to ESPN’s park factors for 2015 Safeco was the fourth friendliest park for pitchers. Fenway Park on the other hand, was the fourth friendliest park for hitters. Determining the exact impact of how park factors affect pitchers is tough, but it’s safe to say that starting half his games at Safeco instead of Fenway will benefit Miley.

Miley hasn’t really had a problem with surrendering home runs in his career — his control and ground ball tendencies help — so Safeco’s ability to suppress home runs may not be a considerable benefit.

The second point relates to Miley having a stronger defence behind him in 2016 compared to 2015. Although single-season defensive metrics aren’t the most reliable statistics, the Red Sox were actually an average team defensively last year according to DRS and UZR. The Mariners on the other hand, were the second-worst team in the majors based on DRS — only the Philadelphia Phillies were worse.

However, that should be in the past as new general manager Jerry Dipoto has significantly revamped his club’s overall defence. Offseason acquisitions Nori Aoki, Leonys Martin, Chris Iannetta, and a full season of Ketel Marte all offer defensive upgrades, both small and large, over what we saw in the field last year. We also shouldn’t expect to see Nelson Cruz deployed in right field as frequently going forward which helps.

Back to Miley. The left-hander hasn’t been much of a strikeout pitcher in his career averaging about seven per nine innings. At 29-years-old he’s unlikely to develop further velocity either. What allows Miley to excel is when he limits the free passes. In his career 2012 season, he posted a 1.71 walks per nine rate. He’s coming off a 2.97 mark in 2015 and a 3.35 mark in 2014. Getting that rate closer to 2.50 should yield some more positive results.

Throughout his career, Miley has outperformed his earned run average. His career FIP of 3.80 is 15 points better than his career 3.95 ERA. This was especially apparent last season when he posted a 3.81 FIP compared to a 4.46 ERA. FIP tends to be a better predictive stat than ERA, which means we should expect Miley to perform closer to that 3.80 FIP mark going forward. As mentioned, pitching in a friendlier environment with an improved defence should improve both metrics.

We have Miley, an average to above-average pitcher, with room to grow. There’s value there, but we need to talk about the other value he brought to Seattle: his contract.

The following table shows the performance of other starting pitchers who changed addresses over the offseason. For example’s sake and the rotation conversation, I included Iwakuma in the table.

 Comparable Starters’ Performance in fWAR
Name 2015 2014 2013
2012 2011 Average
Wade Miley 2.6 1.5 1.8 4.1 -0.1 2.0
Ian Kennedy 0.8 3.5 0.6 2.5 4.8 2.4
Shelby Miller 3.4 0.5 2.4 0.5 MNR 1.7
Mike Leake 1.7 2.3 2.0 1.4 1.5 1.8
Hisashi Iwakuma 1.8 3.0 3.8 0.7 JPL 2.3

Ian Kennedy holds the highest average fWAR of the group for the sample. At a closer glance, though, he’s been an up-and-down pitcher. Shelby Miller’s track record has some similarity, but with a different story and a higher ceiling — the 2012 sample included only a cup of big league coffee. Mike Leake is perhaps the best comparable for Miley given his consistency. When healthy, and he hasn’t been entirely the past two seasons, Iwakuma has been solidly above average during his short span in North America.

Now let’s look at what the salary numbers will look like for these pitchers going forward.

 Comparable Starters’ Salaries
Name 2016 2017 2018
2019 2020
Wade Miley $6.0M $8.8M $12.0M* FA FA
Ian Kennedy $7.5M $13.5M $16.0M $16.5M $16.5M
Shelby Miller $4.4M ARB ARB FA FA
Mike Leake $12.0M $15.0M $17.0M $16.0M $15.0M
Hisashi Iwakuma $10.0M $10.0M* $10.0M* FA FA

*Denotes a team option.

Miley stands to be the least expensive of the bunch with his salaries locked in through 2018 for a total of $26.8 million if his team option is exercised.. The hit-and-miss Kennedy signed a five-year, $70 million contract with the Kansas City Royals and required a first-round pick. Miller will be cost-controlled through his arbitration years, but cost the Arizona Diamondbacks an unprecedented haul. Leake, a reasonable comparable to Miley, was signed to a five-year, $80 million contract by the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Mariners had to give up a cost-controlled lefty in Roenis Elias who still has upside as a starter and a dynamic young reliever in Carson Smith and that needs to be considered in the cost. If we were to say that Miley and Leake are similar pitchers — young, low-strikeout, low-walk, innings eaters — we could say that the M’s elected to give up some talent instead of paying premium free agent prices.

Also worth factoring in is that Leake or a comparable starter may not have wanted to sign in Seattle. In the case of Kennedy, for example, the club’s unprotected first-round pick would need to have been relinquished. Miley’s contract, though offering team control for three years opposed to five in the cases of Kennedy or Leake, doesn’t affect long or short-term payroll flexibility the way those deals would.

Seattle paid a steep price to acquire Miley but it includes the potential upside and payroll flexibility that is offers value beyond what we know of the left-hander’s past performance. Durable mid-rotation arms aren’t cheap and while he’s no Mark Buehrle, Miley does have four straight years of 190-plus innings to his credit.…

 

It didn’t take long for Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto to turn to “Plan B” after losing Hisashi Iwakuma to the Los Angeles Dodgers. This afternoon, he acquired starting pitcher Wade Miley along with right-handed reliever Jonathan Aro from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Carson Smith and Roenis Elias.

Although Dipoto didn’t waste much time in moving past Iwakuma, this deal and the recent trade of versatile reliever Tom Wilhelmsen leaves the Mariners’ bullpen in worse condition than the one that was so atrocious last season. Plus, the team still needs more starting rotation help.

In effect, the team took a step backward today. Fortunately for them and their long-suffering fan base, it’s only day-one of the Winter Meetings and there’s still plenty of time for the club to improve their roster.

According to MLB.com, the 25-year-old Aro was the number-26 prospect in Boston’s minor league system. He projects as a middle reliever and may end up being Triple-A depth in Tacoma. Although that doesn’t sound sexy, minor league depth matters during an arduous major league season. For proof, look no further than last season when the Mariners bullpen went into a tailspin and no one from Tacoma could help the team. With that said, Miley was the key to this deal.

Dipoto and Miley have a history that goes back to when the Mariners GM was the Arizona Diamondbacks director of scouting when they selected Miley with the number 43-overall draft pick in 2008. Moreover, he had the opportunity to observe the 29-year-old with Boston, when he served as a senior adviser in the Red Sox front office during the second half of the 2015 season.

The 29-year-old is owed $15 million over the next two years, plus the Mariners will hold a $12 million team option for Miley’s age-31 season. That’s considerably less than the $45 million that the Dodgers are paying Iwakuma. Some may not view Miley as a direct replacement for Iwakuma, but the southpaw presents some upside that “Kuma” didn’t during his tenure in Seattle.

Although Miley – at best – projects as a number-three starter, that’s where Iwakuma needed to be if he remained in the Emerald City. So, the Mariners essentially replaced Kuma with a cheaper, younger pitcher.

It’s true that Iwakuma has been more valuable than Miley during the past four seasons. But, the Mariners’ newest starter has been more durable averaging 198 innings-per-season compared to Iwakuma’s 163 during that four-year span.

As with all trades, adding Miley comes at a cost. The Mariners had to part ways with Elias and Smith, who both are young and under team control for five more seasons. Smith was clearly Seattle’s best reliever in 2015. Whether Elias was actually in the mix for the 2016 Mariners rotation is debatable. I’ve heard Dipoto refer to the 27-year-old as a factor in the bullpen on two separate occasions.

On the surface, the Red Sox did much better than the Mariners in this deal. Prospect Insider Executive Editor Jason A. Churchill said as much during his analysis of the trade. In addition, Buster Olney of ESPN reports that Boston is getting “rave reviews from rival executives” for the acquisition of Smith. There’s no doubt that the Red Sox are the winners today.

The deal doesn’t provide the Mariners with a clear-cut number-two starter. Perhaps, the team is using the “hope theory” that Taijuan Walker is ready to move up into that spot. Walker may be ready to rise to the next level, but he hasn’t done it yet. So, it’s natural for observers to be cautious in expecting the 23-year-old to be “the next man up” behind ace Felix Hernandez.

With that said, I’m going to hold judgement on this trade until I see the follow-on deals that Dipoto will inevitably make to shore up the bullpen, and possibly the rotation. Jason mentioned a number of free agent options who could help fill out the reliever corps.

Additionally, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mariners looked at free agent and former Mariner Doug Fister or one of the trade targets that Jason mentioned during his trade target piece in order to bring in more depth to the rotation.

Seattle is down to 11 players on the club’s 40-man roster who were on last season’s Opening Day roster. That number will certainly drop down to the single digit level by the start of the season, if not the end of the week. Hopefully for the team and its fans, the future moves that shreds players from the roster will be aimed at helping bolster their starting rotation and the bullpen.

Although today’s signifies a step backwards for the bullpen and maybe the rotation, it’s not fair to judge the Mariners’ hot stove season on this one trade or conclude that the club is heading down the wrong path. As I keep saying, it’s only early December and Dipoto is far from done.

Even as I peck away on my keyboard, Seattle is in hot pursuit of Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Adam Lind, who would be Seattle’s best first baseman since I arrived to the area in 2009.

All of this roster upheaval should excite fans and not discourage them. The team is on a trajectory to be far better than the 2015 version and it’s only December 7.…

The Seattle Mariners reportedly have acquired left-hander Wade Miley and right-handed reliever Jonathan Aro from the Boston Red Sox. Miley is the main piece here, potentially filling a mid-rotation role in Seattle, where the ballpark will help him eliminate some of the bad innings he displayed with the Red Sox.

The 29-year-old southpaw has been somewhere between average and slightly above-average over the course of his career, landing in the former range with Boston in 2015. He posted a 4.08 FIP, 6.8 K/9 and an acceptable yet not ideal walk rate just under three.

Miley sits 90-92 mph from a lower-than-typical slot with both a two-seam and four-seam fastball, using the two-seamer more often than not. His mid-80s slider is average, flashing above-average at times, and his curveball is typically grades out in the 40-50 range, with obvious inconsistency. His changeup has become his best pitch and he used it nearly 20 percent of the time this past season.

While not being a severe fly ball pitcher, Miley also isn’t a ground ball machine, per se, and his home run rates could maintain the potential outlier produced in ’15 due to the ballpark changes.

He tossed 193 2/3 innings in 2015 after back-to-back 200-inning campaigns with the Arizona Diamondbacks. His performance, career arc and trends, plus what his environment likely will be in 2016 suggests Miley is a strong No. 4 starter with a chance to be a soft No. 3. He has missed more bats than the 6.8 K/9 he posted last season, but getting back over eight strikeouts per nine innings does not appear to be in the cards considering stuff and command.

Aro, 25, is a short right-handed reliever that made his big-league debut in ’15. He offers a fastball up to 94 mph from a three-quarters arm slot, setting up an average slider and a changeup that’s inconsistent but has shown promise and more movement in most recent outings. Aro is Triple-A depth, from what I can gather, without a true plus pitch or the delivery and physical attributes to start games, though he has generally been used for multiple innings out of the bullpen, logging nearly two frames per appearance in 2015 at Triple-A Pawtucket.

The Red Sox get left-hander Roenis Elias and right-hander Carson Smith. Elias is an ultra-athletic arm with enough angle and stuff to pitch out of the bullpen but a lot of upside as a starter, still. The fastball is low-90s — up to 94 on occasion — to go with a plus curveball that he didn’t command consistently in 2015. His changeup has improved, giving him a chance at a third big-league offering and he’ll change arm angles with the first two pitches versus left-handed batters.

Elias, despite being 27, has five years of club control remaining and with the right attention to his mechanics could end up better than Miley ever has been, though he’s not right now and his exact role in Boston remains to be seen.

Smith was the Mariners’ best reliever in 2015 by a wide margin and also comes with five years of control left, including two more before arbitration kicks in for the right-hander. He throws from a low three-quarters slot, turning over a nasty slider he commands well and consistently and the fastball has tremendous sink up to 95 mph. His command is above-average, though his walk rate in 2015 doesn’t suggest so, thanks to a stint after the all-star break where things went awry for about 10 outings.

With the Red Sox, Smith likely will be one option in the seventh and eighth innings and if necessary can handle the ninth in close situations. Smith was one of the best relievers in the American League this past season, and with the Sox’s recent acquisition of Craig Kimbrel, the back-end should be difficult to navigate for opposing teams if Boston hands them a lead.

With Miley due $6 million in 2016 and $8.75 million in 2017 (with a 2018 club option worth $12 million), the Mariners do get the southpaw for at least two years at a reasonable price. If this were Elias-for-Miley, it’s be easy to understand and easy to get behind, despite my personal belief that Elias has a lot more to give with the right focus and instruction and it could happen as early as 2016. Adding Smith-for-Aro is where this hurts most, especially considering the lack of bullpen arms in Seattle. The club added Joaquin Benoit, but without Smith even the eighth innings is a huge question mark now, rather than just the sixth and seventh.

As of this moment, there is no word of any cash being involved, though for me it wouldn’t make a significant difference unless it came from Boston and nearly-equaled Miley’s entire salary for ’16.

In conclusion, I don’t like this trade for Seattle and I absolutely love it for Boston. The Sox shed a little payroll, add a useful, multi-dimensional lefty with cheap controlled years left, and a devastating right-handed reliever who also will be dirt cheap for two more seasons.

I know a few high-ranking scouts that like Miley more than his numbers, but in order for this trade to even out for the Mariners, Miley needs to be a legitimate No. 3 starter from the get-go, and I’m not sure he’s a 200-inning, 3.5-3.6 FIP starting pitcher. Clearly, GM Jerry Dipoto and his staff believe he is just that.

I wouldn’t call this deal awful or terrible or any other exaggerated, hyperbole-driven adjective, but the Mariners are giving up what they’ve coveted prior to this deal, and that’s control years and upside. If they lose on the wager that Miley is better than No. 4 starter, this trade will be a bust, as the upside for Aro has no chance to make up for it. As for how the roster looks now, they did get at least a little better in the rotation with Miley’s advantage in probability, of not production, too, but the bullpen needs more help than Donald Trump’s combover and the club still is without a clear No. 2 or No. 3 starting pitcher to compliment Felix Hernandez.

The news isn’t all bad for Seattle, however, as reports now are filing in that Dipoto is after Adam Lind, who would be the club’s best first baseman in years. Simply adding Lind to the lineup without considering trade cost and payroll, it’s exciting to see the length and likely production throughout, without having to hope upon hope that some of the young players explode.…

 

When Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto set out to reshape the club’s roster, the prevailing thought was that the team needed to address their starting pitching, bullpen, catching depth, outfield defense, and fringe depth. Prospect Insider Executive Editor Jason A. Churchill first discussed these areas of need in late October. Since then, Dipoto has aggressively addressed everything that Jason mentioned through a series of transactions that’s seen 30 players change teams. All-in-all, the Mariners have netted 17 new players.

That doesn’t mean that Seattle is ready to field a contender. There’s still more work to do with the starting rotation and the bullpen, especially after the team was unable to retain the services of free agent starter Hisashi Iwakuma.

Another reason that the Mariners are far from ready is the fact that Dipoto created a new hole at first base while making his multitude of moves. The departures of Mark Trumbo and Logan Morrison leave Jesus Montero and the newly acquired Andy Wilkins as the top candidates to take over the position.

Considering that it’s only the first Monday in December and the Winter Meetings only started today, Mariner fans shouldn’t be alarmed. I suspect that Dipoto desired to make a change from the onset of the off-season and moving Trumbo and Morrison was part of a big picture plan to upgrade first base and other areas on the 40-man roster.

Since most observers don’t view Montero and Wilkins as the answer, let’s look at potential options available to Seattle, via trade or free agency. I’m sure other names will crop up in the rumor mill. It’s not my intent to predict the next Mariners first baseman. I’m just presenting some ideas. Some are more far-fetched than others. Let’s start with a couple of free agents.

Mike Napoli
The 34-year-old could be the kind of buy-low players that Dipoto has been attracted to since taking over. Napoli’s 2015 slash against right-handed pitching doesn’t look great. But, his.243/.340/.464 career slash against righties demonstrates that he still can contribute at the plate.

The former catcher-turned-first baseman has also done well from a defensive perspective by averaging over six defensive runs saved (DRS) during the last three seasons. Another plus – a very minor one – is that he could serve as an emergency catcher, although he hasn’t donned the “tools of ignorance” since 2012.

Steve Pearce
His career slash is .247/.325/.431, which hovers near league-average and he’s a versatile player who has played first, second and third base, plus both corner outfield spots. Since his debut in 2007, he’s totaled 10 DRS while manning first base. Like Napoli, he’d be a low-risk, low-cost signing.

I’ve had several people ask me about former Colorado Rockie Justin Morneau. He poses a much higher risk due to his injury history. In 2015, he once again had concussion and neck problems and has averaged just 112 games played since 2012. Plus, his recent offensive renaissance is probably fueled by playing in Coors Field.

Trades
It’s hard to predict deals between teams because it takes at least two parties who have needs that blend in a way to make a trade beneficial to all involved. It also comes down to the willingness of clubs to part ways with the necessary assets to get their player(s). The law of supply and demand definitely applies to the trade market.

With that in mind, I selected a few players who could be trade targets. Most of them cost more than the Mariners appear to be willing or able to pay, especially if the player doesn’t have multiple years of team control remaining.

Adam Lind – Milwaukee Brewers
The 32-year-old would be a significant offensive upgrade for Seattle. He’s posted a superb .293/.354/.509 slash against right-handed pitching during his career. He is under contract for one more year before he enters free agency and will make a relatively reasonable $8 million next year. More than likely, he’s still with the team because Milwaukee because they haven’t received an acceptable offer from potential buyers.

Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports recently speculated that the Cleveland Indians were able to get southpaw Rob Kaminsky – who was a 2013 first-round draft choice – from the St. Louis Cardinals at last season’s trade deadline and that Brewers management could be seeking a similar return.

As Rosenthal pointed out, there’s one significant difference between Lind and Moss situations. The Brewers’ first baseman is a free agent after next season, while the Cardinals got a season and a half of Moss. More team control leads to getting more value in return during a trade. This concept applies to all of the players I’m about to mention.

Clint Robinson – Washington Nationals
A late bloomer as a 30-year-old rookie last season, the left-handed hitter had an impressive .272/.358/.424 slash during 352 plate appearances and has been a average defender at first base. Granted, it’s a small sample size and whether the Nationals would be willing to part with Robinson is questionable, especially with the injury history of starting first baseman Ryan Zimmerman.

Travis Shaw – Boston Red Sox
The 25-year-old’s .270/.327/.487 slash and 13 home runs in just 248 plate appearances during his rookie season would make him attractive if the Red Sox were to make the left-handed hitter available. It’s possible that Boston would part with Shaw if they’re truly committed to Hanley Ramirez at first base. That remains to be seen since Ramirez has never played first base at any professional level and is coming off a disappointing 2015 season.

Justin Bour – Miami Marlins
The 27-year-old performed superbly during his first full season in the majors and even finished a distant fifth in Rookie of the Year voting to the runaway winner – Chicago’s Kris Bryant. Bour’s .262/.321/.479 and 23 home runs in 446 plate appearances would make the cost of acquiring the left-handed hitter very prohibitive. One mark against him is that his defensive metrics weren’t very favorable – he registered -7 DRS last year. In fairness, a partial season of defensive metrics doesn’t provide a large enough sample size to pass judgement.

Chris Colabello – Toronto Blue Jays
If Toronto opted to move Edwin Encarnacion to first base on a full-time basis, the 32-year-old late bloomer could be considered excess since the team already has former Mariner Justin Smoak to serve as a back-up. The right-handed hitter posted a .265/.323/.438 career slash and has some pop in his bat. Like Bour, Colabello’s -6 DRS during 644.1 innings at first base isn’t reliable due to the small sample size.

Wil Myers – San Diego Padres
It may be a surprise to some that the former American League Rookie of the Year only turns 25-years-old in three days. It may also surprise some that I;ve mentioned Myers as a first base option since he’s only started 24 major league games at the position. Based on his athleticism, the former catcher and outfielder should easily adapt to first base. This is an interesting idea, but it looks like San Diego came up with it first and may opt to keep Myers to be their first baseman, especially after trading away Yonder Alonso.

Lucas Duda – New York Mets
The 29-year-old has excellent left-handed power and good on-base ability for a player who averaged 136 strikeouts over the last two years. Duda will likely earn in the neighborhood of $6.7 million in arbitration and is a free agent after the 2017 season. Despite his disastrous throwing error in the World Series, he’s a good defender. If the Mets opted to move team captain David Wright – who has spinal stenosis – from third base to first, Duda would become expendable. New York may eventually move Wright to first, but there’s no indication that it’ll happen in 2016.

Davis effect
If a team that already has a first baseman were to sign free agent first baseman Chris Davis, a new partner could appear for Dipoto. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, and Toronto are interested in the power-hitting Davis.

Signing Davis would make Colabello available. The Cardinals would likely trade Matt Adams if they inked Davis. The arbitration-eligible Adams is projected to earn $1.5 million according to MLB Trade Rumors and a free agent after the 2018 season. The Red Sox would definitely have an excess at first base if they signed Davis to play there. Whether they would they be more inclined to trade Ramirez or Shaw is unknown.

Multi-team mystery
Since the Mariners have limited trade assets to use to get a first baseman – or starting pitching – Dipoto could turn to a multi-team deal to make a move. That’s how former general Jack Zduriencik was able to flip Nick Franklin for Austin Jackson in 2014 that involved David Price moving from Tampa Bay to Detroit.

Dipoto has used the multi-team deal while with the Los Angeles Angels. In December 2013, he made a three-way trade with the Chicago White Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks that netted the Angels Hector Santiago, Tyler Skaggs, for Mark Trumbo and A.J. Schugel. These deals are complicated and can fall apart at any times.

The trade option would likely net a better player, but the Mariners are planning to contend in 2016. So, they may be reluctant to part with major league talent and they don’t have a much to offer in the form of high-level prospects.

Unless Seattle is willing to take on a bad contract or under-performing player – like Hanley Ramirez – it’s tough for me to envision how the Mariners could pick up one of the above players or someone similar in talent and team control.

That’s why Napoli and Pearce intrigue me the most. Both would be low-cost alternatives who would help the team with on the field and at the plate.

 …


 

 

This year’s crop of free agents is particularly deep with high-profile names like Zack Greinke, David Price, Johnny Cueto, Jason Heyward, and Justin Upton among the headliners. The first player in this group to sign with a team was Price, who agreed to a reported seven-year/$217 million deal with the Boston Red Sox just two days ago.

Price won’t be the only player who’ll hit the jackpot. The San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers are reportedly in hot pursuit of Greinke. The former Dodger may not get a seven-year deal like Price because he’s a few years older. But, his potential contract is expected to have a higher annual average value (AAV) than Boston’s new ace. At least a few others will get longer commitments than Greinke though.

It might take seven years to secure the services of Cueto and Upton and it’s possible that it’ll take to a 10-year commitment to get Heyward, who will be 26-years old next season. Obviously, teams have money to spend, but is committing to a player for nearly a decade a wise strategy?

Unfortunately for teams and their respective fan bases, the majority of these long-term deals won’t help their team win a championship. By year-six, fans are more likely to suffer from buyer’s remorse than a hangover from overindulging at a World Series victory party. Bad long-term deals are almost as inevitable as death and taxes.

Sure, it’s a great day when a team presents their freshly signed player to the media and fans for the first time. He’ll strut out and model his new jersey and ball cap for the cameras and his smiling face with his new team colors will saturate the internet. During that introductory press conference, the newly imported star will likely explain why he chose his new team, while omitting the fact that his new employer was the highest bidder.

At the time, most fans won’t care if their team overbid for their new star or just outbid themselves. Their team spent the big bucks to get their man and that’s all that will matter. Naturally, the blogosphere will erupt and season ticket and team merchandise sales will escalate. But, how long will it be before the jubilation turns to frustration?

Big dollars, lots of years
Take a look at the 15 biggest major league contracts of all-time to see why fans could go from ecstatic to pessimistic just a few years after the big name signed with their team. The players highlighted in yellow have appeared in a World Series after signing their monster deals.

Player Current Age Tm Total Value (million)
Duration
Giancarlo Stanton 26 MIA $325 2015-27
Alex Rodriguez TEX $275 2008-17
Alex Rodriguez 40 NYY $252 2001-10
Miguel Cabrera 32 DET $248 2016-23
Albert Pujols 35 LAA $240 2012-21
Robinson Cano 32 SEA $240 2014-23
Joey Votto 32 CIN $225 2014-23
Clayton Kershaw 27 LAD $215 2014-20
Prince Fielder 31 DET $214 2012-20
Max Scherzer 31 WAS $210 2015-21
Derek Jeter (retired) 41 NYY $189 2001-10
Joe Mauer 32 MIN $184 2011-18
Mark Teixeira 35 NYY $180 2009-16
Justin Verlander 32 DET $180 2013-19
Felix Hernandez 29 SEA $175 2013-19

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On the surface, that may not seem that bad since so many of the above deals are relatively new. On the other hand, only three contracts – Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Mark Teixeira – have helped a team win a World Series and that was the 2009 New York Yankees.

A couple of Detroit Tigers did appear in the Fall Classic during a losing effort – Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera. Fielder was traded the Texas Rangers after being with the Tigers for just one season and appearing in the 2012 World Series loss to the San Francisco Giants. Cabrera is starting his second eight-year extension with Detroit.

There’s no doubt that Cabrera’s his first extension paid dividends for the Tigers. He’s a two-time league Most Valuable Player and a perennial Silver Slugger award winner. But, he’s age-33 next season and his current deal runs to at least 2023. Will he still be worth $32 million annually at age-40?

Ironically, the Tigers are one of two teams with players on the list that finished in last place in their division last season – the Cincinnati Reds is the other. They’re not the only teams that had big contract players and were unsuccessful in 2015.  The Seattle Mariners, Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Angels, and Miami Marlins all underachieved last season.

Long-term deals can affect a team’s executive suite also. Six of the 10 clubs with players on the top-15 list have replaced their GM after their high-dollar signing(s). Spending an owner’s money can be risky business, depending on the outcome.

The Yankees or the Dodgers can afford to overpay – if they choose – and not overextend themselves financially. Conversely, Cincinnati’s signing of Joey Votto may have thrilled the masses when the deal was announced. Now, the team is reportedly ready to trade away major leaguers that they’re no longer willing or able to pay due to Votto’s increasing salary.

In 2015, Votto’s paycheck accounted for nearly 13-percent of the Reds’ payroll. Depending on offseason acquisitions, that could rise to nearly one-quarter of player salaries for next season. Plus, his pay continues to climb throughout the term of the contract. By the time that Cincinnati climbs back to relevance, their high paid star may no longer be a star, but he’ll still be high paid.

Sure, there’s still hope for the above organizations and I’m not trying to say that teams shouldn’t strike deals of seven years or longer. It comes down to making wise choices and understanding the risk being accepted.

Sometimes, it makes sense for a team to go all-in on signing a big name. Perhaps, ownership wants to make a statement on their commitment to winning or they’re in a “win now” mode. That’s why the Mariners signed Robinson Cano to an enormous contract.

Cano’s legacy with Seattle fans will hinge on whether the team wins a World Series during his tenure. If they don’t, his 10-year/$240 million deal will only cause angst among Mariners faithful. Especially, when he inevitably declines during the last five years of his contract.

Other times, winning isn’t the only priority. Creating goodwill by retaining a homegrown star who’s become an icon in the local community matters too. Examples of that practice would be the Mariners and New York Mets, who signed the face of their franchise to long-term extensions. Those players are Felix Hernandez and David Wright respectively.

“King Felix” is still at the top of his game. But, how long will that last? Yes, he’ll only be entering his 30-year-old season next year. However, his 2,262 innings pitched is third highest by any active pitcher since his debut in 2005. Who’s right behind him? C.C. Sabathia, James Shields, and Justin Verlander who all had a down year in 2015.

I’m not saying that the end is near for Hernandez. Every pitcher is different. But, seeing his peers struggle should give fans a reason to pause since he’s signed through at least 2019.

Wright is suffering from spinal stenosis and his long-term future is questionable. He’s under contract through 2020, which is his age-37 season. Fortunately for the cash-strapped Mets, his annual income drops from its current level of $20 million to $12 million during the last year of his deal

I grew up as a Mets fan and I’m married to a Mariners lifer, so I appreciate the reasoning behind both teams signing own stars. With that said, both players could fall into the “overpaid, under-performing ” category by the end of their deals.

Big dollar bats
Since the majority of the above contracts kicked-in during the last three years, I decided to look back at 12 current long-term deals that were signed in 2012 or earlier to see how they look with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. You’ll notice that there are a few familiar names already mentioned.

I focused on games played (G) to gauge durability and the “slash” statistics of batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage to measure performance. Average games played for 2012-2015 and games played for last season that were below 120 have been highlighted in yellow. I did the same with below league-average slash stats. All league-averages for 2015 and every season can be found here at baseball-reference.com.

Player Age Tm Avg G (2012-2015) 2015 G PA 2B 3B HR BA OBP SLG Term 2016 Salary
Adrian Gonzalez 33 LAD 158 156 643 33 0 28 .275 .350 .480 2012-18 $21.9M
Mark Teixeira 35 NYY 93 111 462 22 0 31 .255 .357 .548 2009-16 $23.1M
Albert Pujols 35 LAA 142 157 661 22 0 40 .244 .307 .480 2012-21 $25M
Alex Rodriguez 39 NYY 106 151 620 22 1 33 .250 .356 .486 2008-17 $21M
Prince Fielder 31 TEX 131 158 693 28 0 23 .305 .378 .463 2012-20 $24M
Joe Mauer 32 MIN 134 158 666 34 2 10 .265 .338 .380 2011-18 $23M
Matt Holliday 35 STL 132 73 277 16 1 4 .279 .394 .410 2010-16 $17M
Ryan Zimmerman 30 WSN 112 95 390 25 1 16 .249 .308 .465 2009-19 $14M
Matt Kemp 30 SDP 121 154 648 31 3 23 .265 .312 .443 2012-19 $21.8M
David Wright 32 NYM 110 38 174 7 0 5 .289 .379 .434 2014-20 $20M
Carl Crawford 33 LAD 80 69 193 9 2 4 .265 .304 .403 2011-17 $21.6M
Jayson Werth 36 WSN 111 88 378 16 1 12 .221 .302 .384 2011-17 $21M
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/14/2015.

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Several of the players listed above had “decent” years. But, the majority struggled with poor performance and/or injury in 2015. For some, their struggles started before last season.

Adrian Gonzalez continues to provide value, as did Teixeira. But, “Tex” only played in 111 games. Injuries have plagued the 35-year-old first baseman during the majority of his contract – he hasn’t played in more than 123 games since 2011. Teixeira isn’t alone when it comes to having injuries affect both playing time and performance.

Rodriguez averaged just 88 games-per-season between 2011 and 2013 due to hip issues. As a result of his physical limitations, he’s been restricted to the designated hitter position. “A-Rod” enjoyed a strong start to 2015 and his overall numbers look good. But, a closer look at his stats uncovers a paltry .191/.300/.377 slash during the last two months of the season.

Albert Pujols hasn’t missed much playing time during the last two seasons, but he’s been hampered by foot problems and is projected to miss the start of the 2016 season due to foot surgery. His overall numbers fell below expectations and were buoyed by a strong June. Like A-Rod, he struggled during the second half of 2015 with a .231/.288/.419 slash.

Losing playing time due to injury shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as a curse unless it’s been a trend. For example, Fielder hadn’t missed a game in three consecutive seasons until he had neck surgery in 2014 and missed all but 42 games. He bounced back to play in 158 games in 2015 and was named the American League Comeback Player of the Year. Hopefully for the team and player, he’ll stay healthy through 2020 when he’s age-36 and earning $24 million annually.

Hired guns
Let’s turn our attention to starting pitchers where the list is much smaller. Until recently, clubs were very reluctant to go seven years or longer with a starter.

Since 2013, four pitchers have signed deals of seven years or greater – Masahiro Tanaka, Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, and Justin Verlander. Only Tanaka’s signing wasn’t an extension deal with the player’s original club. Price’s signing suggests that some teams are willing to commit to elite free agent pitchers on the grandest scale.

Like with the position players, I reviewed starting pitchers with deals greater than seven years and signed in 2012 or prior. Only two pitchers fit the bill. Depending on your outlook, both could be viewed as either worthwhile or a bust.

Player Age Tm G GS CG Avg IP (2012-15) 2015 IP ERA FIP HR BA OBP SLG Term 2016 Salary
CC Sabathia 34 NYY 29 29 1 156 167.1 4.73 4.68 28 .285 .338 .458 2009-16 $25M
Matt Cain 30 SFG 13 11 0 139 60.2 5.79 5.54 12 .293 .352 .545 2010-17 $20M
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/14/2015.

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Sabathia started strongly with the Yankees by helping the team win the 2009 World Series and finishing in the top-four of Cy Young award voting during his first three seasons. Since then, he’s declined with each passing season. There are many fan bases that would accept the down years of Sabathia if it meant winning a championship. I’m not sure that Yankee fans feel that way though.

Perhaps, carrying the long-term deals for fading players like Teixeira, Rodriguez, Sabathia, and the recently retired Derek Jeter is the reason that the Bomber’s World Series chances have dimmed lately.

Similarly, Matt Cain initially did well after signing his long-term deal and has gone on to struggle in recent years. During the early years of his contract, his team was successful in the World Series. Unfortunately for the pitcher and his team, he’s suffered injuries that have restricted his innings during the last two seasons.

Some Giants fans may view the Cain deal as a waste, while others probably don’t mind. The fact that Cain pitched in two of their three victorious World Series has to help lessen any frustration.

Final thoughts
Signing an elite free agent can be a defining moment for a baseball organization. Sometimes it’s a good moment, more often it’s not. Especially, if a team ventured outside of it’s financial comfort-zone to seal the deal or went significantly above market value to get their man. The cold, hard truth is there’s no guarantee that signing the biggest name on the market will ever translate into a championship.

Fans who want to see a World Series championship parade in their town shouldn’t necessarily pine for the next Albert Pujols or Robinson Cano. They’d be better off hoping that their team’s GM takes a balanced approach between developing homegrown players and acquiring reasonably priced talent. It’s not sexy, but five of the last six World Series champs were built that way.

Ironically, the only big spender to win it all lately – the Red Sox in 2013 – just signed Price. It’ll be interesting to see if they can avoid the same fate of the other two most recent big-spending champions – the Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies. Both clubs have been weighed down by bloated contracts of aging players over the past half-decade.

History isn’t on Boston’s side. Death, taxes, bad long-term deals……

With the news breaking Friday morning that the Seattle Mariners parted ways with Jack Zduriencik we’ve already started to hear the names of possible replacements. It’s all speculation at this point, but retreads galore likely are littering your Twitter timeline, drawing eye rolls and even some ‘WTF’ replies. Understandably.

Team president and COO Kevin Mather stated publicly via press conference and radio interviews the club wants to find a new baseball guy before the offseason truly gets under way. Part of that is to make sure they don’t get beat to the punch on candidates, part of it is about hitting the offseason ready to go. It’s the only way to go about this these days.

Several other things Mather said Friday via the various outlets that struck me as interesting or somewhat important:

  • Despite giving Lloyd McClendon a sort of vote of confidence, the new GM will have the power to bring in his own field staff, including the manager. Mather will encourage but not force McClendon on the new GM
  • Mather believes the 25-man roster is fairly close to being good enough, though clearly there are holes to fill and admits his opinion may not be that of the baseball people he chooses in the end
  • Club prefers a GM that sees the roster is close enough not to suggest a tear-down, at least not heading into 2016.
  • Mather mentioned the GM’s front office staff more than once, strongly suggesting 1) that he, as the president and COO, understands the GM must have the right people in place around him and 2) perhaps Zduriencik did not. (He didn’t). Part of the draw of some candidates will be the people with which they are connected that can be brought in as part of the new regime. The GM can’t do everything.
  • The change is being made not based on 2015 and all its disappointment, but why the club is where it is, seven years after Zduriencik was hired. Mather stated directly the failures in player development. Yes, ultimately it’s about wins at the big-league level, but Mather clearly has people in baseball he;’s been talking to — I mentioned his familiarity with the FO in Minnesota and how he’s talked to them in the past, and he noted said relationship in his interview with Mike Salk and Brock Huard Friday morning.
  • Since Mather prefers not to rebuild, he expects a GM with experience, but if he’s open-minded enough about the process, he’ll interview several inexperienced candidates that won’t require allowance for a rebuild, nor see the immediate need for it, while demonstrating they are capable of adding to the current mix enough to project a winner.

Here are some names with which to start, but a few caveats:

  1. I don’t know most of these people personally. I derive their candidacy by leaning on those I do know in the game for their qualifications, plus what reports have been out there up to and through today’s news in terms of candidacy.
  2. You will hear good and bad about most or all of the following, almost all of which will be complete trash. Pick and choose who you trust on these kinds of matters.
  3. Included below are candidates I wouldn’t necessarily hire myself and that I don’t believe are good candidates, but they’ll be mentioned, so they go here, anyway.
  4. I do know some of these candidates, some better than others.
  5. These are listed in no particular order.
  6. I am not sure each of the names below are so eager to get a shot at GM that they’re willing to work under an ownership with a terrible track record of interfering and downright bufoonery, but there are only 30 GM gigs in the world, so …
  7. It’s also worth noting that Mather does appear to be leading the search there is always a chance the ownership is willing to budge on some things to get the right candidate to take the job.
  8. In no way is the following a suggestion that these are the names Seattle will interview or consider.
  9. There will be names below that never are mentioned, never interviewed or considered or even some that may not have interest or are hired elsewhere.

Jerry DiPoto: Former Angels GM
Having resigned from his GM post in Anaheim, DiPoto brings mixed reviews when I ask around — like most. He’s a former player that believes in scouting and analytics — and a blend of both that cannot be written in stone for even two seconds — and reportedly was the Mariners’ No. 2 choice in 2008 when the club hired Zduriencik.

He was an assistant in Arizona overseeing scouting and player development, scouted under Theo Epstein’s crew in Boston before that and now is serving as an extra set of eyes for the Red Sox, who just hired Dave Dombrowski to run the while kitchen. DiPoto could be a strong candidate for GM under Dombrowski.

Knowing what I know — which isn’t enough to make the kind of call the Mariners have to make — I’d find it difficult to hate the move if DiPoto was ultimately tabbed the new baseball executive in Seattle.

John Coppolella: Assistant GM, Atlanta Braves
Coppolella may be my personal favorite for the job, not because I have had many conversations with him but because he seems value exactly what the Mariners need; Detailed in terms of covering all the bases before making decisions, valuing greatly the assessments and work of those around him, no use of the ego in evaluating players or situations, high-impact passion for the game of baseball and winning, and he’s as short on confidence in his abilities as I am on Twitter snark. Which is to say not at all, sir.

Coppolella grew up in the New York Yankees organization, was a favorite of the late George Steinbrenner and in Atlanta has overseen the pro scouting department before essentially taking the helm of GM under president of baseball operations John Hart. He’s had the advantage of working with and under some of the most successful baseball executives in the game, including Brian Cashman, John Schuerholz and now Hart.

In my dealings with Coppolella, he’s never taken credit for anything, it’s always “we” or he deflects credit entirely. He’s adept in the area of statistical analysis, but player development is extremely high on his list, especially having worked with execs with tremendous track records in growing from within.

He was hired by Schuerholz, was a huge draw for Hart when he was contemplating taking the job and I have a feeling he sees eye-to-eye with Mather’s preference of not rebuilding right away, which I believe is the right approach.

If Coppolella were to be hired, the Mariners would be getting a GM with a sound plan, capable of adjusting said plan to accommodate the myriad situations that indeed will come up 12 months out of the year. The group that ultimately would land in Seattle to accompany him would likely be quite impressive. Coppolella’s network is as large as anyone’s and he’s as respected on and off the field as much or more than anyone I’ve ever asked about.

Jason McLeod: Director of Scouting & Player Development, Chicago Cubs
Having worked so much under Theo Epstein, one would think plenty has rubbed off on McLeod, who worked under Epstein in Boston before moving on with Jed Hoyer to San Diego, and then Chicago. I hear only great things about McLeods abilities to evaluate not only players at all levels, but his track record with development strategies, the draft and trade and free agent markets. There are some who believe Epstein’s success is wildly over-the-top because of Epstein himself, but there’s a reason he keeps winning, first in Boston and already in Chicago. The presence of Hoyer and McLeod clearly are critical.

Flatly put, McLeod is a winner, has an enormous network from which to choose his lieutenants and has witnessed absolute greatness from a winning standpoint for more than a decade.

McLeod should be high on the club’s list of candidates.

Erik Neander: V.P. of Baseball Operations, Tampa Bay Rays
Neander is among the many that run the Rays baseball operations department and one of a few Rays execs that could be legitimate candidates in Seattle.

Scott Sharp: Assistant GM, Kansas City Royals
Sharp has been among Dayton Moore’s top assistants as the Royals have ascended to the top of the American League behind pitching, speed and defense.

I don’t know tons about Sharp but in looking at the kind of players the Royals have shown they value most, it’s largely what Seattle doesn’t have an needs. Defense, speed, athleticism, multi-dimensional. And they’ve done it on a somewhat limited payroll.

Mike Chernoff: Assistant GM, Cleveland Indians
Ask one baseball exec about Chernoff and I get positive descriptions. Ask another and I get “meh” type replies. Ask yet another and I get “I don’t know, I’m not sure how much that front office really gets to do on their own.”

But anytime I inquire about candidates, Chernoff’s name comes up in conversation.

Thad Levine: Assistant GM, Texas Rangers
Billy Eppler: Assistant GM, New York Yankees
Dan O’Dowd: Former GM, Colorado Rockies
Ben Cherington: Former GM, Boston Red Sox
Charlie Kerfeld: Special assistant to the GM, Philadelphia Phillies
Dan Jennings: Manager & former GM Miami Marlins
Tony LaCava: V.P. Baseball Operations, Assistant GM, Toronto Blue Jays
Matt Arnold: Assistant GM, Tampa Bay Rays
Larry Beinfest: Former President Baseball Operations, Miami Marlins
Matt Klentak: Assistant GM, Los Angeles Angels
Kevin Towers: Former GM San Diego Padres, Arizona Diamondbacks & special assistant to GM, Cincinnati Reds
Damon Oppenheimer: Director of Scouting, New York Yankees

LaCava interviewed in 2008 and was my preference based on what I was told from those that know him. He’s a market analysis genius and has served the Jays well during his time, playing a large role in their current success. He’s probably as qualified for the job as any of the assistant types that will be mentioned and might have the ability to put together the best staff.

Levine has worked under a highly successful executive base in Texas with Nolan Ryan and John Daniels. Is typically among the top 8-10 as I ask around baseball about candidates that have yet to serve as full-time GM.

Jennings has a history in Seattle, having served as an area scout in the late 80s and eventually a crosschecker in 1995. He served as the Rays scouting director before moving onto the Marlins as a player personnel V.P. and assistant GM. He was named the Marlins’ GM in 2013 and took the field as the skipper earlier this season.

Kerfeld would be an interesting choice in style as he’s old school in the way he scouts in his present role but understands the necessity for a blend, and not simply when it’s convenient to implement. He’s a former pitcher who’s worked for years under Pat Gillick.

Arnold is thought to be as instinctive as it comes in baseball operations and with Neander served under Andrew Friedman, now of the Los Angeles Dodgers, during their run the past several years as a have-not beating the haves with consistency.

Beinfest, like Jennings, has history in Seattle having served as an assistant in the scouting and player development departments in the late 80s and through the 1999 season. I don’t see how Beinfest fits at all, but we’ve already seen his name linked to the club, which means little to nothing in the end.

Cherington is a puzzler for me. I don’t know him personally, but I don’t understand the attraction. Yes, he has a World Series title, and he did make some moves prior to the 2013 championship run that played a key role, but that roster was largely built by Epstein and sandwiched around the ring for Cherington is a last-place finish in 2012, another in 2014 and the roster he built for 2015 is headed for one more. I’m not suggesting he’d be a bad hire, but his track record suggests so and that speaks volumes in my book.

Names that may be bandied about that probably make so little sense that the Mariners won’t truly consider in the end include Ned Colleti, Kenny Williams, Jerry Walker.

Jeff Kingston, the interim GM in Seattle, is sharp, analytically inclined and always has come across to me as a no-nonsense type that’s all about getting it right and winning. The M’s will get a look at Kingston over the final month.…

ChapmanEvery day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column.

Royals Going For It
The Kansas City Royals reportedly were close to acquiring right-hander Johnny Cueto Saturday night. The deal fell through due to an apparent lack of medical clearance for one of the players headed from Kansas City to Cincinnati in the deal. Even with the deal failing to go through, this news tell us the Royals are going for it.

Cueto, a legitimate No. 1 starter, is a two-month rental and the Royals went for it. Certainly they will continue to attempt to land such a piece, perhaps even Cueto still. With such aggressiveness at the forefront, one has to wonder if the club also will look to grab an outfielder. Alex Gordon is out for a few months, and while Alex Rios has swung the bat better in July, he may not be a trustworthy bat. Gordon likely will return for October but if there are any setbacks with his rehab the Royals could be down a hitter in the postseason.

Brewers’ Sale
Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel tweets that right-hander Mike Fiers has drawn trade interest, but adds that the club is trying to move Kyle Lohse and/or Matt Garza, instead.

Good luck.

Lohse and Garza started the year with a chance to create nice value, but neither have pitched well. Garza has $25 million guaranteed still on the books, too, with a vesting option based on games started and the avoidance of the disabled list worth $13 million or a $5 million buyout. Lohse is movable, perhaps even without cash going with him. Garza is not, unless a bad contract is coming back.

Garza has posted a 4.89 FIP while seeing his strikeout rates fall for the fourth straight season. He’s still throwing 91-94 mph with three offspeed pitches but his fastball is getting hit hard and his above-average slider and curveball have also dipped in effectiveness. He’s 32 in November and has not gone more than 163 1/3 innings since 2011.

Milwaukee, however, is expected to strongly consider offers for Carlos Gomez, who may net the club a future impact piece. Fiers, by the way, is a solid No. 3 starter with four more years of club control remaining. He will not be arbitration eligible until after the 2016 season.

Chapman, Kimbrel
Aroldis Chapman may or may not be traded this summer, but if he or Craig Kimbrel lands in Washington the Nationals will have even fewer excuses for an October failure than they have had in the past.

ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark tweeted Saturday that rival executives believe if Nats GM Mike Rizzo makes a move it will be a big one. Chapman or Craig Kimbrel would be pretty big. Either’s presence would push solid closer Drew Storen to the eighth inning.

The Padres and Reds aren’t contending and could jump start a busy offseason by maxing out their value this month, rather than reducing their value by hanging onto them for two more months. Expect both to be dealt, as A.J. Preller and Walt Jocketty get busy on a reload job.…