Saturday, January 28, 2012

Moving on after Prince Fielder

With Prince Fielder signing with the Tigers, this longshot topic of speculation regarding the Mariners can go away.  What's next?  It seems to me the M's still have some cash to toss in the kitty if they are to keep their salary at last year's level-about $12-15 million.  Perhaps some pitching?  Roy Oswalt is interested in a $9 million one year deal.  Or Edwin Jackson could be had for three years at about $10 million per year.  This would solidify the Mariners rotation which looks a bit thin with Felix, Vargas, Iwakuma, Noesi and a selection from a cast of thousands (Millwood, Perez, Beavan, Furbush, Paxton, Hultzen . . . add name here.)

Eric Wedge and Jack Zdurencik introduce Jesus Montero at Thursday's medi luncheon.
 Unless Jack Z can work his magic to pick up a third baseman, I doubt he has plans to add anybody else to the team.  Not pitching, not a bat, not nobody.  The media luncheon held earlier this week with Zdurencik and manager Eric Wedge seemed to indicate there would be no more big pieces to the puzzle. Wedge emphasized improvement by the players he has, not the hope that significant bats or arms would be introduced to the team. As frustrating as 2011 was on the field, 2012 could be doubly so:  The Year of the Kids.

Right now, based on comments by Wedge and Zdurencik, these are your Seattle Mariners and their length of service:


 1B-Justin Smoak-2 yrs, 223 games, 886 PA  .234/.323/.396

 2B-Dustin Ackley-1 yr, 90 games, 376 PA .273/.348/.417

 SS-Brendan Ryan-5 yrs, 538 games, 1826 PA .248/.313/.326

 3B-Kyle Seager-1 yr, 56 games, 182 PA .258/.312/.359


 LF-Mike Carp-3 yrs, 114 games, 419 PA .276/.326/.466

CF-Franklin Gutierrez-7 yrs, 681 games, 2486 PA  .224/.261/.273

RF-Ichiro Suzuki-11 yrs, 1749 games, 8060 PA  .272/.310/.375


Miguel Olivo-10 yrs, 996 games 3565 PA .224/.253/.388

John Jaso-3 yrs, 203 games 687 PA .224/.298/.354

 Designated Hitter

 Jesus Montero-1 yr, 18 games 69 PA .328/.406/.590

 Likely role players

 Chone Figgins-10 yrs,1178 games, 5090 PA  .188/.241/.243

 Casper Wells-2 yrs, 131 games.237/.317/.442

Stats from 

 Obviously there will be more players, but barring a significant trade or injury, these are likely the starters and significant bench players for 2012.  Yes there will be more-some Luis Rodriguez, Chris Gimenez, Munenori Sasaki, and others could join this list, but this is likely the group of guys that will start.

If their incredible youth doesn't just jump out at you, put on your glasses.  Five of the players on this list-Ackley, Seager, Carp, Wells and Montero have less than one full season's games.  Because Carp and Wells will likely share LF, four positions are shared by very young players.  Of the rest, Ichiro, Olivo, and Figgins are the only ones with 1,000 games played (actually Olivo is four games short, but I'll give it to him.)  None of these three are coming off particularly memorable seasons.  Add in Gutierrez, whose 2011 was a huge health disaster, and there's not a lot to cheer for.

But this is who we have.  Zdurencik has stuck with his rebuilding plan, focusing on the farm, acquiring and developing minor league talent wherever possible.  The M's have a long, slow climb to make to reach respectability, and this is just step two in what is likely to take a few more years. Wedge's job is to make this team more efficient at the plate and on the base paths, scoring more runs than the disastrous totals of 2010-11.

Whatever the accomplishments of kids on this roster, the Mariners farm system continues to get high marks from those publications that rate those systems and rising prospects. Jonathan Mayo of ranked the Mariners prospects the highest in the major leagues with 329 points with his top 100 prospect lists.  Jonathan Sickels at ranked the M's with the 4th best farm system in the game.  Finally, Baseball America released their list of the top ten Mariners prospects.  What does all this mean?  Not a lot. It's still pitching heavy, but shortstop Nick Franklin remains in's top 100 and Vinnie Catricala and Francisco Martinez, each potentially a third basemen, are ranked in the top ten by Baseball America. Zdurencik's goal to acquire young, team controlled talent through the draft, internationally and trades seems to be working. This year we get a glimpse to see whether it can produce on the field.

I think it's a tall order and will require patience on the part of fans ready to give up  baseball for a monastery in Tibet.  The M's will have to show some development  from their youngsters, and improvement from their veterans.  Wedge has already held a winter camp for nine of his players.  Gutierrez looks healthier and Smoak looks leaner.  He's already stated his preference to move Ichiro out of the leadoff spot in the order and to use Figgins as a supersub a la Mark McLemore in the M's glory years. It all sounds good, but we'll see.  This is not a starting line up likely to drive M's fans back to Safeco in droves, but it certainly should be an interesting year.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Jesus Saves?

John Jaso, George Sherill, Munenori Sasaki, Hisashi Iwakuma; you knew the other shoe had to drop soon.  Jack Zdurencik would have to bring a bat to Safeco if there was any hope of putting some sizzle in the Mariners' wimpy batting order.
Phenom Michael Pineda to Yanks for highly rated catcher/dh Jesus Montero is a good trade for both teams.
As we all know, however, sizzle comes with a cost, and the acquisition of Yankees slugger in waiting Jesus Montero cost the M's starter Michael Pineda.  Pineda rapidly became a fan favorite as a rookie by winning in April and May, making the All-Star team, striking out 173 in 171 innings.  By the second half of the season, however, Pineda was struggling with walks, homers and lack of run support.  He threw too many strikes with his heater, and couldn't throw enough with his slider.  All of this was fixable, however, and I was looking forward to another year of Pineda slotted behind Felix in the rotation.

 Unfortunately, the lack of news on Prince Fielder made it seem more and more likely the M's would have to trade pitching to bolster their offense.  When I heard the news tonight it was difficult to decide whether this is a good deal or not.  The M's get a batter widely believed to be a can't miss monster.  A right hander with the kind of power that Safeco should not diminish, Montero is compared to Miguel Cabrera with power to all fields.  He won't be a pull hitter intimidated by Safeco's deep left field as Mike Cameron and Adrian Beltre were.
There is little question Montero is patient, can hit for power and average. 

It's a small sample size but the graph from Hit Tracker shows the true location of Montero's four late season home runs.  They're dingers at Safeco too.  Three of them to the opposite field.

Montero does bring a negative however, a big one.  Primarily a minor league catcher, he's a bad backstop.  Having a recent history of bad backstops, we need another like a hole in the head.  The M's recently went out and acquired Jaso to rest Miguel Olivo's passed ball machine, and I'm not sure we need to offer bad catching skills more time.  This means Montero is likely a DH, though there is some thinking his catching skills could be raised as high as Mike Piazza's . Jim Bowden at ESPN believes he could be teachable.  Perhaps another student for Roger Hansen;  it may be worth the time.
"Tools of ignorance" or tools of incompetence?  This is a much bigger deal for the M's if Montero can catch.
 So the principals in the deal cost the Yanks and M's something they'd rather not part with. The Yankees get a starter they've coveted and the M's begin unenfeebling their offense with a potentially potent bat. The secondary parts to the deal I'm less wild about.  19 year old minor league pitcher Jose Campos is going from the M's to the Yankees while New York ships young hurler Hector Noesi to the M's.  Campos is considered a potential ace in the making, though several years away from the majors.  Noesi was primarily a starter in the minors, but made the vast majority of his appearances for the Yankees out of the bullpen.  He's projected as a back of the rotation starter.  Bird in the hand, versus ace in the bush?  I think we gave a bit much here given the M's depth of pitching close to the majors. It's a trade for the here and now versus the future. 

Is this a good or bad deal for the M's?  It's not a perfect deal.  It's one in which fans from both teams are divided.  I see it as a deal made for need, in which your team trades something that is a strength to help fix a weakness.The M's traded the very visible Pineda with his big rookie year for a hitter that is a year's performance less established, plus Noesi provides pitching help today-this minute.  This deal is a bit more risky for the M's than the Yankees, but it does address the M's offense issues right now.  There doesn't seem to be anybody in the M's minor league system who can be this kind of masher.

The response is interesting.  The Mariners fan base, which has cried out for Fielder and more offense, is divided between those who can accept the deal and those who think it is the worst deal since . . . the last deal.  Trade Howie and Chucky.  Many Yankees fans feel they put one over on the M's.  I found the most interesting reaction over on Lookout Landing in the comments section.  Brandon C. (amid the more than 400 comments on the trade) hosts the SB Nation Pinstripe Alley blog provided his response to the trade, which were generally balanced.  Both Montero and Noesi will be missed by the Yankees and offer good value to the Mariners now.

 Is this a perfect deal?  No.  It is clear the Mariners got one bat they needed.  Dave Cameron also offered it opens the way to more deals.  No money traded hands here-the money is still available to make deals, either for more pitching-say a year of Roy Oswalt-or taking on more salary in a trade for more bats.  It clogs the situation at catcher/DH, and moves Mike Carp out to LF in the vast wasteland of Safeco's left field.  That's a situation I find less than optimal. If Prince Fielder should be signed-a situation I find less and less likely, he doesn't want to play here-that makes things even worse. More deals should come as we head into spring training.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Still the king of the surf guitar: Dick Dale live at Hell's Kitchen

A couple of weeks ago Tim sent out an e-mail announcing that surf guitarist Dick Dale was playing Hell's Kitchen in Tacoma, a tiny club on Pacific Avenue.  Should we go?  I hemmed and hawed-it was a school night, a night I had to run to Seattle to pick up the school paper-I foresaw a very difficult day after.  In the end I decided to go for it, and I'm glad I did.
Still the king of the surf guitar, Dick Dale brought his collection of tube amps and considerable skill to Tacoma on Thursday night.
I met Tim and Patrick and Michelle for drinks and dinner at the  1022 bar and headed for Hell's Kitchen.  It was my first trip to that club.  It's in a new location.  I like the performance area, but the bar area is just silly-a virtual pen, impossible to spend time talking or sit with those who aren't drinking.

 Graceland 5 and the Coloffs were adequate fill ins for the main event, but nothing special .  Local favorites Girl Trouble played a short, entertaining set before Dale took the stage.  I'd go see their locally influenced brand of Northwest rock without a big headliner.

Dale and his band stepped on stage just after 11:00, only an hour and half after my bed time.  It didn't matter.  Pat, Michelle and I already crept up to the front of the room during sound check and we were encamped in the first row of bodies, center stage.  We would have a terrific view of the show.

Dick took the stage with his young bassist and son Jimmy Dale on drums.  They played a ninety minute set that was simply outstanding.  Though he occasionally lost track of his mental set list (doesn't come on stage with a written set) and once or twice had his timing off, Dale at age 74 remains a formidable performer.  Playing a left handed Stratocaster he perversely strings upside down, Dale played all the favorites: Ghost Riders in the Sky, Misirlou, Pipeline, Rumble and many more.  He remains fast, and his double picking technique was clearly visible (chiefly because we were rarely more than six feet from his hands.) Though Dale's voice can best be described as thin, he kept the crowd involved in choruses to House of the Rising Sun and Fever (??!!)  It was great to see the interaction between the elder Dale and his two younger bandmates, and I learned a lot about the integral role of bass in surf music.  You just can't be a shrinking violet when you're playing on stage with the king, 'cause he'll blow you right off.
Dale duels with his young bassist on stage.  Dale wins all of 'em.

Dale's Strat.  He activates his pick-ups with a toggle switch on the faceplate.  No whammy bar or pedals.

This is how close I was.  The Stratocaster head was often two feet from my face.
Pat's watching while Dale is just a bit upstage.  That's how close we were.
In all, it was a great night.  The music was great, and I survived the day after on four hours sleep and dramatic (temporary, I hope) hearing loss.  With Dale at 74 and suffering from colon cancer, it's important to take these opportunities while they are there.