To be quite honest, creating a “Preseason All AL West Team” is a futile exercise. If you are looking for an MLB season preview, full of sound analysis and predictions, this isn’t it. But I’m a visual learner, and there is some value in seeing where the power is in the division, position by position. Of course this isn’t an exact science, no predictions are, and only 2 players are selected per position, so you have a guy like Kyle Seager, the M’s second best position player, not making this list thanks to Beltre and Donaldson. So ya, take this for what it is. A quick snapshot of the division headed into 2014. Although I should point out, by forecasting who has the most 1st and 2nd teamers, I correctly guessed the order of finish in the division last year!
My selection process looks at last year’s performance as well as projections for the upcoming season, and anticipated playing time. Some of the picks are obvious and others are less obvious, so of course I’d love to hear your thoughts too.
Taking the visualization one step further, here’s a super scientific bar graph intended to show the separation between teams, by awarding 2 points for a 1st team selection, and 1 point for a 2nd team selection.
Deontae Cooper came to Seattle in January of 2010. He was one of the crown jewels of Steve Sarkisian’s first full recruiting class. His legend had spread among Husky fans before he even stepped on to the practice field. He was the guy who ran for 7,450 yards in high school. He was the guy who ran for 388 yards in one game. When he did step on the practice field later that spring it was easy to see how he racked up those gaudy numbers. Every practice he would break off an unbelievable run. He was the talk of camp. Husky insiders mentioned Cooper, who would have been a true freshman, stealing away carries from Chris Polk, who turned out to be one of the best running backs in school history.
Hype and expectations for a player tend to grow when people don’t have anything better to talk about. That’s exactly what happened that off-season. Entering Fall Camp of 2010, Cooper could have passed as Superman to some Husky fans. Were there unreasonable expectations for a 17 year-old? Yes. But, some people were made to entertain with their talent and Cooper seemed destined for that.
A few days into Fall Camp, Cooper was running hard, planted on his left knee and made a cut. No one tackled him but something was off. He tore his ACL. He worked hard and came back in time ready for 2011’s Fall Camp. A few days in, the same thing happened. The next year? Lather, rinse, repeat (just switch knees). He vowed to work hard and come back. He said that he would tear his ACL 5 more times and still try to come back. He went from legend to folk hero. His perseverance was strong but most people realized that he would never see the field at U-Dub in a meaningful game.
Felix Hernandez was signed as a 16 year-old Venezuelan by the Seattle Mariners organization. He threw fireballs and was said to have a hammer of a curve. As Felix advanced through the minor league system, his legend grew. He earned the nickname ‘King Felix’ before pitching in a major league baseball game. He eventually made his debut, still a teenager, and eventually lived up to the expectations that were, probably unfairly, placed on his broad 16 year-old shoulders when he signed with the team.
For years, he was the lone shining star on a team that celebrated mediocrity. He loved Seattle and gave the team and fans everything he had when he’d step out on the mound. It didn’t matter that his offense probably wouldn’t score runs or that the bullpen would eventually blow his shutouts, Felix pitched, and still pitches, like he’s leaving everything he has in him on the field.
On August 15th, 2012, I watched from a rented beach house as Felix threw a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays. It was a performance that Mariner fans will never forget. A perfect moment that showed Felix’s perseverance against a ball club’s continual mediocrity.
By the end of the year, the Mariners were 77-85. They finished last place in their division, a place that was all too familiar.
The other day, I was in a McDonald’s, with my wife, about to order some breakfast. We were in a rougher part of Seattle, a block or so away from a Methadone clinic. I know we were that close to the clinic because the guy in front of us in line told us he had come from there. He was dressed in some worn down clothes and seemed like a guy who had gone through his share of struggles. I noticed he was holding a dollar and a few coins. He was studying the menu intently, trying to find something that fit his budget.
In front of him was a lady who had seemed like she might haven’t gotten caught up in the wrong part of town. She seemed a bit frazzled, to put it lightly. She was frantically looking through her purse, trying to find the money that would pay for her meal. Amongst the scramble, a few belongings from her purse had fallen on to the ground without her noticing. By the time she had noticed, the gentleman in front of me had picked them up and hurriedly gave them back to her, in a nervous and shy sort of way. It was a moment of genuine kindness from a person that the world usually doesn’t expect to see kindness from.
She said, “Thank you.” They both went on with the rest of their day.
I’m not sure why we all get caught up in the pessimism. None of us watch the news to see what’s going right with the world. Even in sports, ESPN and other sports outlets are generally leading with stories about someone cheating or getting cut from the team instead of the feel-good moments. In the media’s defense, that’s what the consumer demands.
This isn’t a call to always be positive, the Mariners will probably keep sucking and people do bad things. Life isn’t easy. But, I think we all owe it to ourselves to enjoy the moments. Soak in the little things that aren’t ordinary. There are plenty of things in our day that aren’t ordinary, no matter how big or small. It’s just a matter of us choosing to see them before our routine sets in again.
Last Saturday night, in the second quarter of Washington’s 2013 season opener, Deontae Cooper jogged on to the field. The center snapped the ball and the quarterback handed it off to Cooper. He barreled up the middle for a one yard gain, showing a little less zip than what he used to have but a determination that I wish we all had. The play would be called back because of a penalty.
Deontae Cooper flashing the smile, and optimism, he’s famous for among Husky fans.
It was a moment that I’m sure he cherished. A moment he had waited and worked so hard for. Fans stood up and cheered. Cooper received an ovation that he was more than worthy of. Then, everyone sat down and the next play began.
Unlike some college sports, pro sports don’t come out with pre-season 1st and 2nd teams, but if the AL West had its pre-season team, this is how I think it would shake out. Clearly this is not a perfect method to predicting the AL West in 2013, and by season’s end the 1st and 2nd team selections will look different. But, it does provide a snapshot of how the division stacks up. My selection process looks at last year’s performance as well as potential this upcoming year, and projected impact/playing time. Some of the picks are obvious and others are less obvious, so of course I’d love to hear your thoughts too.
A couple bullets:
It is hard to find much separation at the top between Oakland, Texas, and LAA. All 3 have playoff potential, but from this breakdown I would also suggest the Mariners are closer to the good teams in the division, rather than the bad (Houston).
Say what you want about Oakland’s 2012 season being an anomolye, but it’s hard to criticize the roster Billy Beane has been assembled this year. The A’s don’t have a lot of star power but they are solid at every position, and have a ton of depth, which will surely be an asset at some point.
The positions that were hardest to find a clear cut 1st and 2nd team selection were Catcher, DH, and the 2nd team OFs and Starting Ps. At catcher, Montero projects to have the most playing time and potential, so I gave him the honors. You could make a case for Jaso and Pierzynski too. The same is true between Kendrys Morales, Berkman, and Trumbo, but the numbers suggest Morales (when healthy) is the best option in the group. David Murphy is a nice player, as is Coco Crisp, Franklin Gutierrez, and Chris Young. Take your pick, I went with Murhpy. Starting pitching was a bit of a toss up to when you start picking the 8th-10th best in the AL West. I tried hard to justify an Astro but simply could not. Iwakuma was my 10th selection, but it could have easily gone to Derek Holland, Jason Vargas, or really any Oakland starter.
In order to visually quantify the separation between teams based on these picks, I’ve awarded 2 points for a 1st team selection, and 1 point for a 2nd team selection. Here’s how it shakes out on a fancy bar graph.
One year ago I asked your reaction following Prince signing in Detroit. One year later, I’m curious what your take is on Josh Hamilton signing with a division foe, for nearly $100 million less than Prince got.
This is my 5th installment in a series of posts I’ve done recapping and forecasting the Mariners Rebuilding Process, since Jack Z took over as GM. You can find the prior posts here: Years 1 and 2Year 3Year 4
Let’s recap the 5 year rebuild plan I laid out in October 2008.
2009, Year 1: Shed dead weight, Begin overhauling the farm Summary:Traded Putz for Guti, Carp, Vargas, and managed to get rid of Silva, Betancourt, and Johjima, while also using 3 of first 5 picks on Ackley, Franklin, Seager. Grade: A+
2010, Year 2: Shed dead weight, Continue building the farm (and lock up Felix) Summary:Signed Griffey and Sweeney, locked up Felix and acquired Cliff Lee, then swapped him for Smoak. Could have done without the Morrow trade and of course the Figgins contract. Selected Walker, Paxton, Pryor in rounds 1, 4, 5. Grade: B-
2011, Year 3: Bring the youth up, Evaluate potential, Acquire more young talent Summary:Hired Wedge, traded for Brendan Ryan, picked up Wilhelmson at a local bar, and signed low cost vets such as Cust, Olivo, Kennedy. Fielded an even mix of youth and vets, but loads of young talent in the pipeline for the first time in forever. At the deadline traded Fister for Furbush and Wells. Hultzen chosen with #2 pick. Grade: B
2012, Year 4: continue youth movement, achieve .500 record Summary:Swapped Pineda for Montero and made some shrewd acquistions in Jaso, Iwakuma, Luetge, Millwood, Perez, then saw a young roster come up 6 games short of .500, while improving by 8 games from prior season. Picked Mike Zunino #3 overall. Grade: A
2013, Year 5: add 1-2 big pieces, contend for playoffs Summary: Thus far we’ve seen a few low cost signings in Bay, Ibanez, Bonderman, and a 1 for 1 swap of Vargas-Morales. Grade: ???
I’ve said this before, but in 4 1/2 years on the job, Bill Bavasi set this organization back 5 years, minimum. Last year I stated
“For the first time on Jack’s watch, I think the on field W/L record is important. .500 ball is a reasonable expectation this year, which would be a welcomed site for our eyes.”
Well, The M’s flirted with .500 in 2012 and showed noticeable improvement, albeit without much offense yet again. Entering year 5 the talk of laying the foundation and replenishing the system should be over, and playoff contention ought to be close. Zduriencik has said as much if you’ve heard any of his recent interviews.
If the blueprint holds form, the M’s will be adding 1-2 big pieces this offseason, and assembling a playoff capable team in 2013. This sounds great but it is nearly January and almost all the big name free agents have signed elsewhere, and the only acquisitions Seattle has made are Robert Andino, Jason Bay, Raul Ibanez, and a swap of Jason Vargas for Kendrys Morales. Not exactly blockbuster moves capable of propelling the M’s from 75 wins into contention. I suppose the big moves we hoped for are still possible if Jack can, for example, land Justin Upton and Michael Bourn, and add a veteran pitcher to round out the rotation. That would certainly be a competitive team, but is that the best route to take?
Given how the AL West is shaping up, it may be best to hang onto the prospects, add a couple decent pieces, and shoot for a respectable 80-85 wins in 2013, while waiting until next year to make the big splash. I don’t see a scenario, at this point, for the M’s to overtake Texas or Anaheim in 2013, and probably not Oakland either. So why go all in? I’m not suggesting Seattle give up any hopes they had for next year, just because the division rivals are pulling away, but I don’t want the M’s to mortgage the future to field a better team next year, but one that cannot be sustained.
Keeping a positive trajectory is crucial next year, seeing an improved offense is also important, but that’s about all we can reasonably expect in 2013. This puts real contention off until next year, and adds a year to the original 5 year blueprint, but taking the path that leads to sustained success is what is most important. We’ve seen the Washington Nationals do this, and Tampa Bay also, and with much less money. It may not be popular, given the fractured fan base, plummeting attendance, and a decade of bad baseball, but Seattle has never given a player a $100 million contract, and unless it is a Felix extension, I don’t see it happening for at least another year. And surprisingly, I’m fine with that.
As I noted last week, it’s hard to know what the Mariners are planning this offseason. Payroll is the big question pertaining to the team on the field. According to Cot’s, they currently only have about $40 million on the books for 2013, but that only accounts for four players (one of whom hopefully won’t be on the roster–Chone Figgins), Danny Hultzen’s draft contract and a Miguel Olivo buyout. When arbitration raises and filling out the remaining roster spots are considered, I’ve heard $60 million as a likely number. I can’t imagine they plan to spend just $60 million on payroll next year. If they do, I will not be happy. That would be ridiculous, but unfortunately not impossible or even particularly surprising.
The best bet is for the payroll to rise to the neighborhood of $85 million, where it was to start 2012. That’s no guarantee, but I would expect it in that range. All of this speculation serves no real purpose, except to illustrate that they could potentially have a lot of money to spend, as well as the situation’s uncertainty. How large that amount is will determine the path they take this offseason. 2013 could bring a nearly identical team to 2012, give or take a bargain veteran. It could also bring a couple of major additions through free agency or trade. I don’t expect the Mariners will make any kind of announcement about their 2013 payroll, for negotiating purposes, so fans won’t likely know what they’re going to do until rumors spread or something happens.
All that said, there are moves the Mariners need to make and holes they need to fill. They’ve already made a great first move with the decision to bring in the fences. It’s difficult to ascertain the immediate effect of the change, but count me as one who thinks it could be huge. Even if it just gives the young hitters a little more confidence and leads to more exciting games, that’s enough for me.
Nothing is perfect. We hear that phrase thrown around often, especially when things aren’t going well in our lives. In fact, we probably hear it too often.
Humans often get caught up in the fact that no one lives a perfect, innocent life and don’t realize that there are perfect moments, events and things that happen everyday. We drive down a country road at sunset and don’t think twice about the view. We slow dance with our closest friend, swaying to the song that makes your heart do flips but we can’t stop thinking about what we have to do tomorrow. We watch the perfection slip by while we worry. Those moments that don’t slip by are the memories we keep forever.
Felix in his perfection
Today, I was driving back from dinner with my brother, 2 sisters and girlfriend. We stumbled upon the topic of pausing moments. There are always moments that we wish we could keep going, yet they pass. I believe that if we had the ability to pause them our minds would just move on to what’s wrong with it instead of soaking it in. Humans are cynical, no matter the amount of cheer they possess. But, we don’t have the ability to pause moments and dissect them, break them down to their core and pick out what’s wrong with them. That’s why they’re perfect. You can breathe them in, realize how beautiful life is at the moment and then, before you know it, you’re back at your job on a Tuesday afternoon.
On Wednesday afternoon, August 16th, Felix Hernandez was perfect. He didn’t strike out 27 batters on 81 strikes, never allowing a batter to put the bat on the ball. It may have not been the best pitching performance the world has ever seen. But, perfection shouldn’t be weighed and measured, it should be clung to and then turned into a memory.
Every year, college football players who are headed for the NFL gather before the draft at the combine. They all have their height taken. Some are too short, some are too tall. They all run a timed sprint. Many are too slow. At the end of the week, players have gone up or down the draft board but no player is judged as perfect. There were flaws in even Andrew Luck’s game. Believe it or not, there are flaws in Felix’s game. His pitches can appear unhittable, but they aren’t. They aren’t perfect.
I was walking in from the hot tub today (I’m on vacation) around 2:15 and flipped on the TV just to see what was going on in the Mariners game. I was more interested in taking a shower, to be honest. Then, I saw what was happening. I watched the last 3 innings of Felix Hernandez’s perfect game with my brother, cousin, and sister. I honestly don’t know if there was a better circumstance to watch it under, probably, but the moment was perfect when I saw the final out of the game.
My friend Derek went to Felix’s first ever home start with me about 7 years ago (I believe that’s right). That was the only time he saw Felix pitch until today, when he sat in the King’s Court with his fiance. For there not being anything perfect in this world, that seems like perfect poetry to me.
Around this time of the year, the blog starts to focus on football. It’s not because we aren’t watching the Mariners, a couple of us usually are. It’s just that football is fresh and exciting and the Mariners, well, they aren’t. In the next couple days, we’ll probably put up posts that deal with football and move our attention away from the home town nine once again. We could debate if this was the best pitching performance we’ve ever seen. We could worry about the Seahawks quarterback controversy and who will start at linebacker for the Huskies. But, we shouldn’t. Today is reserved for dwelling in the perfect moment of Rodriguez taking a devastating 92 MPH change-up on the inside corner, Felix throwing his arms into the sky and his teammates mobbing him. We froze that moment in our minds, and filed them under the folder titled, ‘Felix Is Ours And You Can’t Have Him’. We pause because Felix Hernandez faced 27 hitters and retired them in a row. We pause, not in the perfect moment, but to realize that life can be perfect in some moments.
A decent argument can, and has been made (almost weekly) for trading Felix Hernandez. I think we’ve all heard the basic elements of the discussion, but let’s review.
Trade Felix: Felix is the most valuable chip the M’s have, and the likelihood of competing for a World Series before his contract expires after 2014 looks bleak (thanks to Tex and LAA). The national assumption is Felix will land in a big market the next time he hits free agency, because one can only handle so much rain, lack of offense, and of course, losing. And oh by the way, the Mariners offense is not so hot if you’ve tuned in this past decade, and there aren’t many top tier bats in the pipeline to change this. Speaking of top tier prospects, the M’s do have them, but they are pitchers. This side says trade your best asset to acquire offense (Pineda for Montero part 2), rather than stay this depressing course.
Do Not Trade Felix: The argument I hear for not trading Felix mainly comes, naturally, from Mariner fans. This side says to be successful, you need an ace, which Felix is, and trading him for 1-2 MLB ready players plus a handful of prospects is not equal value. Furthermore, re-signing Felix may not be impossible based on his steadfast comments about the city and organization, and his desire to be a Mariner. Check out his comments from just two days ago:
“I’ve got two more years to go on my contract,” said Hernandez. “It’s not my decision. But I would love to stay. I love Seattle. I love the organization, and the city. I would be disappointed [to be traded],” Hernandez added. “I don’t think they will do that. I love them. And I think they like me, too.”
Lastly, what’s the rush to trade him now? Whether Seattle can contend before 2015 remains to be seen, but if two years from now the team is still struggling, and a trade must be made, Felix will still demand a nice package in return.
If you just consider the main points of each side, from 30,000 feet trading Felix looks logical, and inevitable. The trade Felix side has a compelling case. But let’s land this plane in Seattle, and dissect the lesser discussed, but most important reason the M’s should not trade Felix Hernandez: The Mariners needs an ace, yes, but more importantly, they need a face.
As a long suffering Seattle sports fan, I (and the other Good Guys) have insight and a pulse of the sports community that national writers and transplant Seattleites just don’t have. This town has seen too much losing, both in the record column, and in seeing it’s homegrown stars depart at the peak of their career. This list is long, headlined by the likes of Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Kevin Durant, Rashard Lewis, Joey Galloway, and Steve Hutchinson. These are the superstars that began their pro career in Seattle, then for various reasons left in their prime, leaving fans wondering what if? The other list is short, most notably Edgar Martinez, Ichiro, Shaun Alexander, Walter Jones, and old timers Steve Largent and Fred Brown. Adding Felix to this list would mean so much more than a couple prospects that may or may not become MLB players.
Losing Felix via trade or free agency would not only hurt on the baseball diamond, but the morale blow and symbolic loss would be felt for years. To this day I wonder what Kemp and Payton could have been had they stayed in Seattle another 5 years. Or those mid-90’s Mariners that had the best core in baseball, could Jr., A-Rod and Randy have brought Seattle a World Series? I tend to think yes. The Mariners especially can ill afford to lose a superstar, given its history of doing so, and also its current public relations state. Felix has made clear time and time again his desire to be a Mariner, and he backed his words by signing a 5 year extension. The Mariners owe the fans to put up a fight to keep Felix in Seattle past 2014, rather than trading him. He is too unique, too special, too important to this city, both in the short and long term. He is the king, our ace, our face.
The Mariners are only 13 games, or 8% into their 2012 campaign. It is hard to make many conclusions yet, other than the obvious ones like Ackley is a budding star, and Olivo should be in another profession. Again, its just too soon to guess what the remaining 92% of this year will hold. But already we are starting to see the identity of this team, the good and the bad. In short, I like what I see. I’ll take it one step further and suggest, albeit prematurely, that this could well be a team that wins 80 games, just as I had hoped when I wrote about my expectations for Year 4 of this rebuilding process.
My optimism is rooted in 3 observations.
1-The top of the order has been solid. Figgins, Ackley, and Ichiro are all stinging the ball with consistency. Hitting the ball hard does not guarantee results, but it means the batter is not being fooled, he is using is lower half to generate power, and he’s getting the barrel on the ball. I’m seeing this out of all 3 guys, which is extremely encouraging. 2-The starting pitching is just fine. All 5 guys have had at least 1 great outing, and only twice has a starter been pulled before the 5th inning. I was especially worried about the back of the rotation, and my fears still remain, but I think our 3-5 guys will be alright, at least until help arrives in the summer…Paxton! Hultzen! The exception may be Millwood, who I could see getting torched on any given day. 3-No insurmountable weaknesses. If the M’s win 80 games, it can’t have a glaring weakness. Okay, so the offensive woes we’ve watched for the past years have not been totally solved. The M’s are still 14th in average and OBP in the AL, but they are 14th in MLB for runs, and that’s what counts. The offense is still the single biggest reason why this team won’t contend for the playoffs, but when Carp returns and the weather warms up, this is a middle of the league line-up. The rotation, defense, and bullpen are also not glaring weaknesses.
Most of us would be pleased with 80 wins, maybe even ecstatic, given the 67 and 61 win Mariner teams of the past 2 seasons. Others would say 80 wins is not a playoff team, therefore not relevant. These are mainly casual fans, but their perception matters a ton to the M’s, because these are the bandwagon fans that fill Safeco when the team is winning. Side note: M’s average attendance is 22,110 according to ESPN, which ranks 28 out of 30 teams. Oakland is ahead of us, averaging 24,630 but I’m assuming that counts the Japan games which Oakland was the home team. Anyways, the point is, 80 wins does not mean you are a good team, but it also does not mean you a bad team. For me, that would be progress, and more importantly, it would keep the plan on track to contend as soon as next year. It’s always next year isn’t it?!
Finally, we can turn on ROOT each night and watch a young, promising Mariner team. This team is not build on sand like the ’08 squad, nor are they world beaters. If you ask me (and admittingly I’m a homer), they are an 80 win team on the rise. So go Enjoy Felix tonight, seriously, tickets are dirt cheap. Just bought me a seat for $20, 12 rows up behind first base. You might see me when a lefty comes to bat, I’ll be the guy drinking the Mariner Kool-Aid!