Mariners Mini Morsels: Christmas Eve Edition

Hisashi Iwakuma and Masahiro Tanaka both wear 18 on their uniforms, both played for the Rakuten Golden Eagles, both won the Sawamura Award (best pitcher in NPB). Only Iwakuma has been nominated for a Cy Young Award, so far. He will make $6.5M this season and $7M in 2015 (if the M’s pick up his option). Tanaka will probably pay more than that in sales tax during his next contract.


If the Mariners were to sign Nelson Cruz, the fact that they would be losing a high draft pick and the Rangers would be getting one makes it a double whammy. That’s one double play they really need to stay out of.


AL West Commentary

Buster Olney at ESPN [Insider needed and recommended] points out that: “The AL West has a long, long way to go to catch up to the AL East, but the gap is narrowing. According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the current future obligations for the AL East teams — and this does not account for arbitration results, such as the forthcoming deals for Chris DavisMatt Wieters and David Price — the AL East has accumulated a little less than $550 million in 2014 salary… in the meantime, the AL West has almost $400 million in 2014 salary.” 

There are some other salary factors to consider. For instance both Houston and Seattle will almost certainly be increasing their payroll budgets both this year and in future years. Sooner or later Mike Trout will have to be paid a lot more money. David Price’s growing cost could be moved out of the AL East, A-Rod’s fortune might not continue to be as fortunate, Derek Jeter will cease to be over-paid. Boston has seen the light of the Promised Land and found out it has been overpriced. With the cost of the amateur draft, and international players being controlled, teams will continue to bid up free agents, but there will be fewer and fewer available as teams cut long-term deals with their own young players to keep them around. Which will, of course drive up the already obscene amounts of cash being shovelled out to the Fortunate Few.  If Masahiro Tanaka is posted he will single handedly restore his country as The Land of The Rising Sum and alter the U.S. balance of payments in a not nice way. People have been saying “Go West young man” for close on to a couple of centuries now in America, and baseball seems to be going with the flow.


The Texas Rangers‘ deal with Shin-Soo Choo makes them the best team in the AL West on paper, and perhaps the best or second-best team in the league via that same medium, but it’s an awfully lengthy deal for a player who has a large hole in his game and is already 31 years old. The $18.6 million annual value of the deal is reasonable for a free agent of his production level, perhaps even cheap in the first season or two. The number of years on this deal reflects a level of optimism about his decline phase — or a willingness to write off the last third of the contract — that I do not share. Choo has never hit left-handed pitchers well and has slugged below .300 against them in each of the last two seasons; at 31 he is unlikely to see any sustainable improvement in that department and should sit against good left-handers like David Price and Chris Sale.

The biggest loser might be the Mariners, who improved this winter at great expense but are probably no better than 20 percent or so to make the playoffs despite that. In a league with an increasingly competitive middle class, Seattle is the fourth-best team (again, on paper) in its division, and its intradivisional schedule will be tougher in 2014 than it was last season. The Angels are also hurt by the deal, but they come from a stronger starting position than the Mariners as far as 2014 is concerned. Source: Keith Law at ESPN  [Insider needed and recommended]


In straight dollars, ZiPS evaluates Choo deal as 3rd worst in MLB history at time of signing, behind A-Rod 2, Howard, just ahead of Werth. From: Dan Szymborski at ESPN


One NL evaluator asked a smart question: Does Texas even think about the Fielder trade if it won Game 6 of the 2011 World Series? Source: Buster Olney at ESPN [Insider needed and recommended]


So they said

One executive on the remaining free agents: “Like every winter, this time of year it’s the Boras clients and misfits.” Buster Olney at ESPN [Insider needed and recommended]



Mariner’s potential off-season targets

Although Price comes with a pristine pedigree, some rival executives believe the Rays don’t have a high volume of attractive options — because of the cost in prospects, and the expected cost in future salary for the left-hander. Source: Buster Olney at ESPN [Insider needed and recommended]


Draft and Prospects

Roenis Elias tonight: 6IP, 3H, 0R, 8K, 2BB, WIN. In 2 starts for Lara, 2-0, 11IP, 7H, 0ER, 12K, 2BB, .179BAA. From: Mariners Minors



Masahiro Tanaka: The Big If: The question is whether he’ll be available, not whether he’s worth MLB’s millions.

Steve Wulf of ESPN and Jason Coskrey of the Japan Times have collaborated on this definitive article on Japan’s Jewel, Masahiro Tanaka, or Ma-Kun as his homies call him.  It’s on the ESPN website so Insider is needed and recommended and this article is worth the price if you have wondered what the guy is really like and if he’s just all hype. You can read it all here

I’ve been sold on Tanaka since I read Jonah Keri’s article on him at Grantland a couple of months ago. Other than Mike Trout, there’s not a player I’d rather see the Mariners sign than Tanaka. Given that they play in a pitchers park, arms are more important than bats and a 25-year old 30-game winner, whose ERA was under 2 the past three seasons and who won the equivalent of two Cy Young Awards, is more valuable than Cano to me.


Nikkan Gendai wonders if currency exchange rate could affect when Rakuten posts Masahiro Tanaka. From: Dylan Hernandez at the LA Times (This actually makes some sense. From the end of October when $1 = 97 yen to now where $1 = 104 yen, the yen value of the $20M posting fee has increased from 1.9 billion yen to 2.1 billion.) The Nikkan Sports article also mentions that Tanaka was practicing pitching off of what was evidently an American type of pitchers mound and noting that it takes some getting used to the effects on his mechanics. Due to public appearances he has scheduled, they believe he could get a decision on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. We’ll see.


Patrick Newman at NPB Tracker points out some of the differences that complicate projecting how Nippon Professional Baseball pitchers will do in MLB. These include the facts that the best MLB hitters are better than the best NPB hitters, and the average MLB hitter is better than the average NPB hitter. But beyond that, there are a number of more subtle factors that make projections difficult. Here are the ones I can think of, from the perspective of NPB:

There are fewer legitimate power threats in Japan. Every lineup has at least couple of regulars who just don’t hit home runs.

On the other hand, there are rather few strikeout machines like Adam Dunn and Pedro Alvarez.

Japanese managers are still in the habit of regularly throwing away outs with sacrifice bunts.

Most Japanese ballparks have massive foul ground.

The NPB ball is slightly smaller and lighter than the MLB ball. I’ve also heard that it is a bit tackier than the MLB ball and easier for some pitchers to command.

Japanese starters, at least the good ones, go a bit deeper into games. 120 pitch starts are on the high end in MLB, but are not uncommon in Japan. Yu Darvish was no stranger to pitch counts in the 140′s in his NPB days.

NPB starters normally get six days between starts, which includes a weekly off day. Pitchers sometimes get in a rhythm of pitching on the same day each week. The most famous example of this was Lotte ace Choji Murata, who was nicknamed “Sunday Choji”.

NPB starters also stay home the day before their scheduled starts.

Playing in Japan requires less travel. All of Japan is in one time zone, and five of the 12 NPB teams are based in the vicinity of Tokyo.

NPB has 12 teams total, six in each league. Normally a starter will face each team in the opposite league once during inter-league play, and see the other five teams in his own league four of five times each. Most MLB starters will see a bigger variety of line-ups.


By The Numbers

An ESPN reader’s poll asked, “Would you want your favorite team to sign Masahiro Tanaka?” 27% actually voted no (hopefully they are Yankees fans). However, 51% of fans in Missouri voted No, the only state in the Union or Confederacy to have a majority of nay-voters. They probably think the Cardinals don’t need any further help.


Age 23-29 seasons, highest OBP in history, Frank Thomas tied with Lou Gehrig at the top of the list… .452. From: Gabe Kapler


Oakland used the fewest relievers in MLB this past season, a total of 14. The Mariners were one of seven teams to use only 15. They included: Blake Beavan / Carter Capps / Danny Farquhar / Charlie Furbush /Bobby LaFromboise / Kameron Loe / Lucas Luetge / Brandon Maurer /Yoervis Medina / Hector Noesi / Oliver Perez / Stephen Pryor /Erasmo Ramirez / Chance Ruffin / Tom Wilhelmsen. Source: Bill Chuck at Gammons Daily 


Over the last three years Masahiro Tanaka posted ERAs of 1.27, 1.87, and 1.27 in 76 total starts. Source: Tyler Drenon at SB Nation