Thoughts on Mike Napoli, Billy Butler, and Garrett Jones

I sometimes wonder what it is like to be someone who doesn’t like sports. I’ve spent several hours over the past year wondering what people who don’t love sports do with their free time. Do they just clean their houses all day? Do they watch other stuff on TV? Programming that centers around housewives of various cities pretty much dominates everything else. Do they just sit and read? I wonder about the mechanics of not being a sports fan. That’s a thing that goes on in my brain.

I mean I love the outdoors as much as the next guy, but have you been outside lately? It’s miserable.

There are casual sports fans. People that don’t obsess. People that don’t have the MLB Trade Rumors app on their phone. People that don’t have a Twitter. People that don’t know what an RSS feed is. People that think Dave Cameron invented a sci-fi series, and people that think Fangraphs is a chart of air conditioner sales.

There are people that don’t know that Mike Napoli signing with the Red Sox for three years, $39 million was too much for the role he’d play on the Mariners, and even still the Mariners would have likely had to pay more to land him.

There are normal people that this time of year become moderately interested in baseball transactions. Sometimes those normal people go onto various forms of internet communication, dig their heals in, and argue the value of players that are particularly overrated. Last year such an instance occurred when the Mariners were reportedly interested in Michael Cuddyer, and I was more interested in Luke Scott. Cuddyer ended up signing with the Rockies for a lot more than he was likely to be worth, all-the-while Luke Scott was non-tendered and ended up signing with Tampa Bay. Michael Cuddyer plays second base they said, Michael Cuddyer plays third base they said. They lied.

Scott ended up being worth 0.3 WAR in 344 plate appearances Cuddyer’s 1.0 WAR in 395 plate appearances, but much of that had to do with the fact that Scott played only 41.0 innings of first base and no outfield in Tampa Bay while Cuddyer played nearly 800 innings in the field between right field and first base. Cuddyer was surprisingly close to average in the field, but the WAR adjustment for position rewards players who are even significantly below-average, depending on the position they play, as long as they do in fact play a position. Scott wasn’t a dynamo in the field in his prime, but he wasn’t helped at all by a Rays team that has had very good outfield defense for some time now, and that had the slick fielding Carlos Pena at first base.

Cuddyer and Scott were virtually equal at the plate, Cuddyer posting a 102 WRC+ compared to Scott’s 97, and Scott created -0.1 Runs above average, while Cuddy’er was worth 3.0 runs above average. They two were functionally equal at the plate, and are traditionally similar defenders in the roles they would have filled for the Mariners. Where they weren’t equal though, was in their contract. Cuddyer is owed $21 million for what will be his age 34 and 35 seasons, and Scott is once again a free agent after making only $5 million with the Rays.

It’s not simply an argument of Cuddyer vs. Scott. They’re basically equals. They were both equally risky, and both missed large chunks of the season due to injury, as old players are wont to do.

So when the Mariners mull over the options of Mike Napoli, Billy Butler, Garrett Jones, or any other option that they may mull over, they’ll have to factor financial risk into their equation. They’ll have to factor age into their equation. They’ll have to factor present day ability into their equation. They have an equation, an equation is made up of factors. There are a lot of factors. While the most obvious and visible factor as it relates to any player is their ability on the field, it’s equally important that the Mariners leave themselves flexibility to add payroll next year, or leave themselves prospects to improve themselves next offseason, or in the middle of this season if they find themselves in contention. It’s not important for them to “just go get a bat.” Players are commodities in baseball. Some commodities cost a lot more than they are worth. That’s not to say that expensive commodities aren’t worthwhile, or that cheap commodities are necessarily bargains, but rather that value and price have minimal relation.

Each player is a custom commodity. The Mariners were able to coax value out of Franklin Gutierrez that may have never surfaced if he’d remained in Cleveland and in right field. Then again, the Mariners took a sure thing in Chone Figgins, a signing that wasn’t ideal from all angles but had very few furvent detractors (that is, the day it happened, not the hindsight haters that should be professional scouts running farm systems by now). The best the Mariners can do is make a decision that has the highest probability of success available to them, and literally wait it out.

A roster with a full-time DH is a roster with a problem. That’s not an insurmountable problem by any means, especially if the DH is pretty good, but it’s a problem. Actions can be taken to lessen the blow of the roster issue it creates, but there’s no doubt it creates an issue. Right now the Mariners have a first baseman that fields well but can’t hit (Justin Smoak) and a DH that may be able to field, and should be able to hit, eventually (Jesus Montero). A roster with two full-time DHs has a bigger problem. A less-surmountable problem. If the Mariners trade for Billy Butler, apart from losing the haul of prospects its expected to get him, they’ll also have decreased the value of one of their prized prospects, and if Montero can’t field first well they’ll have taken a hit on defense in the name of a moderate gain. That’s not to say that Billy Butler couldn’t become better in Seattle somehow. Maybe that’s how his career arc is going to curve. It’s also not to say that Billy Butler will come to Seattle and eat his way out of the league. It’s not to say any of those things. It’s a matter of probability, cause, and effect.

Billy Butler or Garrett Jones could very well come to Seattle next year and become the team’s best hitter. It’s not like the other hitters are walking the plank in order of suck, and adding Butler sends Brendan Ryan into shark infested water, though. Adding a bat only player would be done at the direct detriment of Jesus Montero, who is somewhere in the middle of the plank right now.

Assets are limited for any team, and known-commodities are always expensive. Be it financial risk or prospects, the Mariners should be striving to maximize the value they receive for those assets. Unless they receive significant bargains on either Butler or Jones, neither is an ideal fit.

  • DaveX

    Great piece! The thought of making any of those acquisitions makes me sick. This free agent market for bats is terrible, just accept it.

    • Casey McLain

      Thansk Dave!

  • maqman

    Forget Butler and double forget Cuddyer. Span was the one I wanted and he went cheap to the Nats. I doubt they can get Willingham now. Glad they didn’t get Napoli. There’s not much out there that looks like value for money. Hamilton and Swisher would be way overpriced if we got them, plus we lose our first draft pick. I’m okay with going with what we got, as opposed to landing an albatross.