Mariners Mini Morsels: Late New Year’s Eve Edition

Youth is served, in increasingly large portions. The Mariners have been adding young pieces for the last several years and 2013 saw the arrival of another group that figures to be an integral part of the future. Premier pitching prospect Taijuan Walker made his debut in September and immediately lived up to his billing with three strong starts. Equally impressive was the work of left-hander James Paxton, who also debuted in the final month and assertively made his case for a 2014 rotation spot. A trio of rookie position players — Zunino, Miller and Franklin — all took over starting roles by midseason and outfielder Abraham Almonte arrived in September as another first-year man on a mission. By season’s end, eight of the regular position starters were 27 or younger, the closer was rookie Danny Farquhar and the rotation at various times included Walker (21) Brandon Maurer (23),Erasmo Ramirez (23), Paxton (25) and “old man” Felix Hernandez (27).

Source: Greg Johnsat MLB


Tom Verducciat Sports Illustratedpoints out a serious concern about the man of the moment, Masahiro Tanaka and compares him to another amazing young pitcher who I watched become a superstar back in the day, Fernando Valenzuela.

Verducci writes that: “As the free agent market begins for pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, the key question for Major League teams when they assign value to him is not how good he can be, but how many good years can he provide? That question is particularly vexing because Tanaka has thrown more innings at a young age than anybody in the majors in the past 35 years. This reveals a clash of pitching cultures. Had Tanaka been raised in the American way of pitching, there’s no way that he would have been allowed to throw 1,315 innings by his age 24 season — which he did in Japan. The last pitcher to work that much in the majors at such a young age was Frank Tanana from 1973-78. Tanana made the All-Star team in three of those seasons. But in his age 25 season Tanana hurt his shoulder and, though he pitched 15 more seasons, never made another All-Star team.
“Everyone is acting like it’s a no-brainer all-in just because he’s 25,” said one club executive. “He’s still a pitcher and he’s still got serious miles on him. [Tanaka is a] very attractive player nonetheless but a real risk … as with basically all pitchers.” The long-term investment in Tanaka, however, is a bigger leap of faith, if only because he has so few comps based on his workload. Verducci’s full article contains much more relevant information and is well worth a read here.

Clint Hulsey at I R Fast has produced an extensiveMasahiro Tanaka Scouting Report” that you can read here.


Jeff Passanat Yahoo! Sports writes that “Pitch counts are a real concern when it comes to sensation Masahiro Tanaka,” which you can read in full here.


Doug Thorburn of Baseball Prospectus has written Raising Aces: Examining Masahiro Tanaka’s Mechanics,” which asks the question does the NPB pitcher’s delivery bode well for his ability to weather a heavy early workload and make a smooth transition to the majors? You’ll need to be a subscriber to read this one here.


Dave Cameron at FanGraphs has posted “Masahiro Tanaka and Prospect Valuation,” which you can agree or disagree with here.


AL West Commentary


When coupled with the Ian Kinsler for $138MM of Prince Fielder‘s contract, Jon Daniels‘s offseason has raised some quizzical eyebrows. The previously trepidatious Rangers added two players with relatively limited ceilings–optimistically each one could maybe put up a roughly 5.0 WAR season, but that’s in the first year that each is a Ranger–and both are under contract through the 2020 season. The Rangers are slated to pay Fielder and Choo a combined $268MM over the course of the next seven years, and as men much smarter than I have asserted, it’s hard to argue that either one is a superstar at the beginning of their respective deals. Source: Josh Duggan at MLB Daily Dish


Mariner’s potential off-season targets


The odds are against the Mariners winning the bidding for Masahiro Tanaka. Such a move would turn their full focus to the three top domestic free agents: the Rangers’ Matt Garza, the Indians’ Ubaldo Jimenez and the Royals’ Ervin Santana. It’s easy to make a case that any of them is the best option based on his numbers. Does one value recency (Santana), consistency (Garza) or durability (Jimenez)? Only Garza won’t cost the signing team a draft pick, so that’s a major plus in his column. Otherwise, it’s tough decision. Jimenez has logged the least disabled list time his career (one brief stint in April 2011 for a cracked cuticle), which would seem to favor the risk-averse club, except that no pitcher’s performance has fluctuated as much as his.

Garza is as close to a known commodity as it gets in pitching, a big prize for the risk-averse consumer, whereas the performances of Jimenez and Santana have at times fluctuated wildly. Since 2007, when Garza first made at least 15 starts in a season, he has recorded an ERA between 3.32 and 3.95 every year.
Jimenez set a personal best for strikeout rate in 2013, by fanning 9.6 batters every nine innings. That raised his career K/9 to 8.3, which outpaces Garza’s 7.6 and Santana’s 7.1 Jimenez has induced swings-and-misses on 22 percent of his career pitches, compared to 20.8 percent for both Garza and Santana.
Santana is building off the best recent performance for his single season in Kansas City, during which he had a 3.24 ERA (127 ERA+, which matched a career-best) in 211 innings with a 3.2 K/BB ratio. His 23 quality starts were tied for fourth in the AL. However, he has the worst home-run-allowed rate for his career (1.2 HR/9), but he also allowed an AL-worst 39 homers in 2012. Source: Joe LemireatSports Illustrated

Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP, free agent — A few GMs I spoke with recently feel the Yankees may wind up with Jimenez, even if they land Masahiro Tanaka. “He had an excellent second half, has great stuff, and he has the type of personality that would fit New York,” one GM said. “He doesn’t let things get to him. He’s good at shrugging off things and turning the page.” Source: Nick Cafardoat theBoston Globe


Nelson Cruz, RF, free agent — Cruz remains the best available free agent among position players, but his demand of four years at $75 million has turned off teams. While other PED guys such as Jhonny Peralta are still getting top dollar, Cruz, who more relies on his power, is of greater concern for teams who feel that being off the stuff could lessen his power numbers. “The feeling is Peralta is more of a pure hitter than a power hitter, and less risky,” said a National League GM. “Cruz hits for more power. Someone will sign him and take the chance, but Melky Cabrera is always in the back of your mind.” The Blue Jays last year signed Cabrera to a two-year deal after his PED suspension, and his game — which was hitting and not power — went south as injuries began to crop up. Source: Nick Cafardoat theBoston Globe


Baseball Best Practice


Free agency is an essential building block for roster construction. You also need home-grown talent to subsidize the free agents. One without the other is doomed to fail to produce a consistent winner. Its not an either or choice. You must do both.”Pft in a reader’s response to a Dave Cameron at FanGraphspost on Masahiro Tanaka.


By The Numbers


Cano and Cabrera are the only two players to hit .300 or better for each of the past five seasons and also the only two to slug .500 or better every year in that same span. And the 31-year-old Cano has been an ironman as well, missing just 14 games over seven seasons. Source: Greg Johns at MLB


The only team to not have a single rain delay this past season was the Seattle Mariners— but they didn’t escape entirely. They got “stung” by a 23-minute bee delay in Anaheim. Source: ESPN Stats & Info


Masahiro Tanaka has already thrown 1,315 innings in Japan. To put that in perspective, 32-year-old Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright has thrown 1,3142⁄3 in the big leagues, and Red Sox counterpart Jon Lester, who turns 30 next week, is at 1,3761⁄3. Source: John Tomase at the Boston Herald


Worst Defensive Runs Saved Total AL in 2013: Mariners –97, Tigers –63, White Sox –58, Angels –57. Source: Mark Simon at ESPN [Insider needed and recommended]


Alumni News


The Braves are still in talks with reliever Eric O’Flaherty, David O’Brien at the Atlanta Journal Constitutiontweets. O’Flaherty had Tommy John surgery last May and will likely miss the beginning of the season. He’s one of only a handful of lefty relievers remaining on the free agent market, along with Oliver Perez, Mike Gonzalez, Jose Mijares and Rich Hill. Source: Charlie Wilmoth at MLB Trade Rumors