Mariners Mini Morsels: January 3

I’ve been high on Tanaka for longer than most and am okay with the M’s spending whatever they can afford to get him. Perhaps their biggest advantage is their low payroll commitments going forward. Even with Cano and Felix’s contracts they are currently committed to only about $85M, and the Mariners have said publicly that their payroll will be higher than that this coming season. As their income from their regional media subsidiary, ROOT NW, starts to flow into their bank account they can absorb an albatross contract or two, as the Angels, Yankees and Rangers must. Playing in a pitchers’ park, they need plus pitching to survive.

I wouldn’t make the Ms the favorite for Tanaka, though; they will have to out-bid the Yankees for a player that they have publicly stated they want. How much that will be affected depends in part on the A-Rod drama yet to be played out. The non-monetary factors are hard to know, although Japanese media indicates that Tanaka enjoys the spotlight. The fact that he married a singer/actress/idol four years his senior seems to confirm this. The bright lights of Broadway and LA could be alluring. He was a workout buddy of Darvish and they both supposedly have BFF tattoos, and he played five years with Iwakuma for the Golden Eagles. How much does that count? Who knows.

Likewise the Japanese status system of deference to their elders may or may not come into play with Iwakuma, Darvish, Ichiro and Kuroda. Could the Nintendo connection come into play in a way outsiders can’t recognize? Maybe they could create a Meet the Tanakas or The Tanakas Do America game. I mean, hell, they could become a non-Duck Dynasty in their homeland. It all certainly adds spice to the back end of the off-season. It’s a baseball soap opera. —Maqman

 

Jeff Sullivan at USSMariner writes that the Mariners Suddenly Possible Tanaka Favorite. Click on headline link to read his views on the subject.

 

From Jason Stark at ESPN comes: It’s early on Tanaka watch. But constant theme from interested teams is: Watch out for the Mariners. Execs think they have one big move left.

 

Ben Badler at Baseball America says:The Yankees and Dodgers get most of the ink when the public speculates about Tanaka, but the Mariners are the favorites to land him. That doesn’t mean they will sign him, but based on conversations with industry officials, Seattle’s resources and the makeup of the team, they are a strong fit.” You can read it here.

 

St Louis Cardinals Senior VP and GM John Mozeliak could always be wooed by an organization like the Rockies (he’s from Colorado), says Derrick Goold of the St Louis Post-Dispatch, but all indications are that he remains committed to St. Louis. Mozeliak has interest in the game’s broader business aspects, and could continue to expand his role in that respect with the Cardinals. If Mozeliak were to climb in the organization and move out of a baseball operations role, he has indicated that he would like to have a succession plan in place. Goold notes that several internal candidates to fill his shoes would be assistant GM Michael Girsch, director of player personnel Matt Slater, and director of amateur scouting Dan Kantrovitz. Source: Jeff Todd at MLB Trade Rumors

(Mozeliak would be great as Armstrong’s replacement, and his  assistant GM Michael Girsch would be great as Zduriencik’s replacement.)

 

Veteran right-handed reliever Ramon Ramirez is one of three players who have signed Minor League contracts with the Mariners with invitations to Major League camp in February, the club announced Thursday. Ramirez, 32, has pitched eight seasons in the Majors and played in the 2010 World Series with the Giants, though he spent most of last year in the Minors after being designated for assignment by the Giants in mid-June. Also agreeing to Minor League deals are outfielder Cole Gillespie and right-handed pitcher Matt Palmer. The three are not on the Mariners’ 40-man roster, which is currently full, but they will take part in Major League camp in Peoria, Arizona, which opens with pitchers and catchers reporting on February 12.Ramirez is the most experienced of the group, having pitched with the Rockies (2006-07), Royals (’08), Red Sox (2009-10), Giants (2010-11 and ’13) and Mets (’12). Source: Greg Johns at MLB

 

AL West Commentary

Prince Fielder and Shin Soo Choo join a list of high-dollar players on long-term contracts given out by the Texas Ranger ownership group headed by co-chairmen Bob Simpson and Ray Davis. Adrian Beltre signed on for $16 million a year after the 2010 season; Elvis Andrus has one more season before he’s paid $15 million a year; and Yu Darvish was a $111-million investment after the 2011 season. The ownership group has also shown a willingness to spend on international signings, and pay for upgrades at the Ballpark in Arlington. In all, Simpson estimated, the ownership group has spent an additional $120 million since purchasing the team three years ago.

The significant investments have been easier to approve knowing the upcoming TV contract with Fox Sports Southwest is valued somewhere in the billions. With the TV money and “tremendous fan support,” Simpson said, the team should reach ownership’s goal of having a self-sustaining organization after next year with the payroll staying in its current $130-$135 million range.  Source: Jeff Wilson at the Ft Worth Star-Telegram

 

The Angels have basically ignored any free agent tied to Draft pick compensation all offseason, and general manager Jerry Dipoto reiterated their stance at the Winter Meetings, saying: “We’re committed to the idea of preserving our first-round pick. We haven’t had one in the last two years and are notably thin in the Minor League system, particularly with upper-level pitching. … That first-round pick is something that’s very important to us, just the impact you can get from it.”

But the question is still a relevant one, given the dynamic of the free-agent market for starting pitching. If a deal with Matt Garza can’t be worked out, Masahiro Tanaka signs elsewhere, 36-year-old Bronson Arroyo doesn’t lower his price demands and A.J. Burnett continues to be against pitching on the West Coast, the Angels will be sifting through a much lower tier, where the likes of Jason HammelPaul Maholm and Chris Capuano lurk.

Another option would be to cough up yet another first-round pick — No. 15 overall — to sign Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez. Even those two, the top of the free-agent crop if you don’t include Tanaka, have significant warts. Santana is a year removed from going 9-13 with a 5.16 ERA on the Angels; Jimenez was 19-30 with a 5.03 ERA from 2011-12 before turning it around this season. In short, the Angels don’t deem them worthy of a big contract and a Draft pick. Source: Alden Gonzalez at MLB.com

 

Every offseason, I get more questions about the possibility of the A’s landing a big bat, the one that’s going to carry them to the World Series. This kind of wishful thinking is just that. Oakland doesn’t have the means to reel one in, which is why the club has been creative in building its roster. This very much applies to the A’s DH situation. They don’t employ a full-time one, as is becoming a trend in the American League, but rather extend their platoon system to this role, too. John Jaso figures to get the bulk of playing time here in 2014, while manager Bob Melvin also rotates in Yoenis Cespedes and Coco Crisp occasionally in an effort to keep them healthy. Source: Jane Lee at MLB.com

 

Mariner’s potential off-season targets

John Buck, C: Buck, 33, ranked second in the majors in home runs (nine) and fifth in RBIs (25) at the end of last season’s first month, and even though he predictably fell off that pace in a 2013 in which he was traded from the Mets to the Pirates, he remains a serviceable catcher with power. He has averaged 16 homers over the past four seasons, during which time he has played for four different teams.

 

Jason Hammel, SP: After being traded from Colorado to Baltimore, Hammel, 31, broke out in the first half of 2012 — he went 8-5 with a 3.47 ERA — and then he broke down. His season ended in July, when he had knee surgery, and he spent a month and a half on the DL in 2013 with ulnar nerve inflammation, finishing 7-8 with an ERA of 4.97. Still, as a sinkerballer who can get swings and misses (he struck out 8.6 batters per nine in his abbreviated 2012), and one who will likely seek to re-establish his value on a one-year deal, he is drawing a good deal of interest.

Francisco Rodriguez, RP: The Orioles didn’t benefit all that much from their late-July acquisition of Rodriguez from the Brewers, as he had a 4.50 ERA in 23 mostly low-leverage appearances. However, K-Rod was very good on the whole: his 10.4 strikeouts per nine ratio was his best since 2010, and he was 10-for-10 in the save opportunities he received in Milwaukee. The single-season saves record holder will only turn 32 next week, can still hit 94 mph with his fastball, and he is seeking at least an opportunity to return to being a full-time closer.

Jeff Baker, UT: Baker, who saw time last year at first base, second base, third base and in the outfield, simply destroys left-handed pitching. In 123 plate appearances against lefties in 2013, the 32-year-old batted .314 with 10 homers, 18 RBIs and an OPS of 1.073 — better than that of anyone but Miguel Cabrera, Andrew McCutchen and Jayson Werth. Source: Ben Reiter at Sports Illustrated 

 

“If anything, Tanaka’s 2013 season was so good as to nearly enter the realm of myth. He was 24-0 with a 1.27 earned run average for the Rakuten Golden Eagles, leading the club to the championship of the Pacific League, and a triumph in the Japan Series. He won his second Sawamura Award, Japan’s equivalent to the Cy young Award.

Those numbers are reminiscent of Bob Gibson‘s immortal 1968 season (22-9, 1.12). The pitching was so good that year that the mound was subsequently lowered to give the hitters at least a marginally better chance. In the case of Tanaka, you look at 24-0 and 1.27, and you think there had to be something else going on. Perhaps the competition wasn’t all that rigorous. But that sort of thinking by Americans in regard to Japanese baseball is outdated, antiquated and fundamentally incorrect.” Source: Mike Bauman at MLB.com

(Editor’s note: Because pitchers have little control (if any) over their own run support, there was unarguably some luck that went into that 24-0 record. I would hope by this time that we are not trying to purchase those types of wins.)

 

Baseball Best Practice

As we’ve seen with the home run replays (and with other sports), the use of the advanced technology won’t put an end to the controversy. The flaws in the new system, and the new collision rules, will be exposed and abused, inevitably, and this will lead to improvement of the sport. So think of 2014 as a step in the right direction, as MLB reaches for a higher standard. Hopefully, the first catcher who avoids an opponent coming home with the winning run gets the full backing of his teammates and manager. Source: Buster Olney at ESPN [Insider needed and recommended]