If Not Ichiro, Then Who?

Eric Wedge has said he’s considered moving Ichiro out of the leadoff spot for the Seattle Mariners.

Ichiro is a leadoff hitter. If he isn’t hitting there, he’s still considered a “leadoff” type hitter. The Mariners aren’t going to be up there with my Detroit Tigers, or the other baseball elites. 75 wins probably deems the season as a “success”. Maybe even an “overachieving” season.

Here is the Mariners current roster as it stands from a hitter standpoint:

(* indicates spring training invitee)

  • C/UTIL Chris Gimenez
  • C John Jaso
  • C/DH/1B Jesus Montero
  • C Adam Moore
  • C Guillermo Quiroz*
  • C Miguel Olivo
  • 2B Dustin Ackley
  • INF Chone Figgins
  • 3B Alex Liddi
  • 3B Francisco Martinez
  • SS Brendan Ryan
  • 3B Kyle Seager
  • INF Muneniri Kawasaki*
  • INF Luis Rodriguez*
  • 1B Justin Smoak
  • SS Carlos Triunfel
  • 1B/OF/DH Mike Carp
  • OF Johermyn Chavez
  • OF Chih-Hsien-Chiang
  • OF Franklin Gutierrez
  • OF Carlos Peguero
  • OF Darren Ford*
  • OF Trayvon Robinson
  • OF Michael Saunders
  • OF Mike Wilson
  • OF Casper Wells
  • OF Ichiro

First round of cuts — cross off Montero, Olivo, Martinez, Liddi, Moore, Smoak, Carp, Chavez, Peguero Wilson and Wells as being more power-oriented hitters. Cross off Gimenez, Luis Rodriguez and Kawasaki because of their likeliness to be more utility guys. Obviously cross Ichiro off because that’s the point of all this, finding a replacement in the leadoff spot if it’s not Ichiro.

The field is now cut down to this:

  • C John Jaso
  • INF Chone Figgins
  • 2B Dustin Ackley
  • SS Brendan Ryan
  • 3B Kyle Seager
  • SS Carlos Triunfel
  • OF Chih-Hsien-Chiang
  • OF Franklin Gutierrez
  • OF Darren Ford*
  • OF Trayvon Robinson
  • OF Michael Saunders

No it’s not a typo. Jaso is still in consideration in my mind if I’m Eric Wedge. Joe Maddon used him there for a little bit in Tampa because of his ability to get on base and all that.

The next round of cuts probably leaves Jaso in the cold. Cross of Ryan as well because of his .256 career stat line. Seager isn’t probably a logical fit either. Triunfel might still need time in the minors (if he makes the team he’s probably stuck behind Ryan at shortstop). Ford is fast and is also a candidate, but he, Robinson, Saunders and Chiang are all fighting for one outfield spot. As are a host of other outfielders (Peguero, Carp, Wilson and Chavez). So I’ll keep Outfielder X in the discussion (whether that be Ford, Robinson, Saunders or Chiang).

That leaves:

  • INF Chone Figgins
  • 2B Dustin Ackley
  • OF Franklin Gutierrez
  • OF X (Ford, Robinson, Saunders or Chiang)

Here is the debate for all four (six if you want to put it plainly):

INF Chone Figgins

The Case for Figgins- He has experience in the leadoff slot. He patrolled that spot for years in Anaheim. He hit.298 and .330 in two of last three years in LA of Anaheim. He’s a fast guy who perennially swaps 40-50 bags. He has hit double digit triples a couple times in his career. He can hit double digit doubles (generally somewhere around 20).

The Case Against Figgins-  He had a terrible year last year (sorry Chone, the numbers weren’t there). .188 as a batting average for a perennial leadoff guy? Yikes. The numbers, like I said, weren’t there.

 

2B Dustin Ackley

The Case for Ackley- He’s a good hitter. Not a premiere slugger, but one with good power, and one who can hit for average as well. The batting-average thing goes right to people’s heads, and they say “put Ackley in the leadoff spot”.

The Case Against Ackley- The factors working against Ackley are his strengths. The guy is a good all-around hitter. So why not put him in the 3 or 4 hole to pair with Montero and Smoak?

OF Franklin Gutierrez

The Case for Gutierrez- Has showed he can hit for average and run, and showed it in his best year in Seattle (2009). In ’09 he hit 18 bombs, and he chipped in 80 RBIs with a .283 batting average.

The Case Against Gutierrez- Guti is in the same boat as Ackley. Good hitter, but probably more tailored to a 5 or 6 spot in the lineup.

Outfielder X (Ford, Robinson, Saunders or Chiang)

The Case for Outfielder X- All fast guys. Ford can fly. Chiang absolutely raked in AA for the Red Sox minor league affiliate. Saunders can run and hit a little bit. The stuff could be there. Robinson can run as well.

The Case Against Outfielder X- All guys are a bit on the inexperienced side. That’s the key. Due to that we aren’t exactly sure what the guys can do in a full season.

The Verdict- Figgins makes the most sense. If, and that’s a big if, he can play like he did with the Angels. If not, ehh, you might see a revolving door. Who knows? Maybe Wedge will pull a Joe-Maddon and put Jaso there.

Stop with the Money Talk

People have stressed the fact that Prince Fielder signed a ridiculous contract. So what if it’s ridiculous? The guy is still under 30 (27). He absolutely rakes. He might be the best power hitter in the game. And he isn’t just a power hitter. The guy hit .300 last year.

Take these two things into account before you read the rest of this –

One:   As previously stated, Prince is under 30. He isn’t 30 next week or the week after. He is 27.

Two: His contract is nine years long. He is going to be 36 at the end of it.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim signed Albert Pujols for 10 years and 240 million dollars. Pujols is over thirty (32). Pujols will be 42 when the contract is over. This has Alex Rodriguez written all over it (the later contract). He’ll have a couple good years in Anaheim before drifting into the 20 homer and 80 RBI category.

The same team (the Angels) signed converted relief pitcher CJ Wilson to a 5-year 77.5 million dollar deal.

That’s over 300 million dollars.

Take year nine of Pujols’ and Fielder’s contracts. Fielder would be 36. Pujols would be 41. Who do you want there? Pujols might be retired. Fielder would probably still be productive, granted not what he is now, but still productive. Pujols over 40? Ehh. Seems a bit of a stretch to me.

Throw in the fact that the Angels also added CJ Wilson for over 77 million. Yikes. The Angels seem a bit more questionable than the Tigers with these moves.

Prince Fielder Grades

The Tigers will Sign Prince Fielder ……… Holy schnikies!!!

The Tigers signed him, they didn’t commit “fiscal insanity”. They jumped in at the last minute as the darkhorse team to get the big fish. Much like their acquisition of Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers swooped in at the eleventh hour, so to speak.

Detroit- A

Detroit is the clear winner here. Not only has Victor Martinez been viably replaced for this year, but the Tigers have found yet another top line bat to pair with Miguel Cabrera. This could become messy at the end of Fielder’s contract, as it might be with Cabrera. The thing that might make the contract bearable is the fact that both guys can hit. Yes, that’s a bit obvious, but listen to this: if Cabrera can hit now, and that’s his forte by the way, as can Fielder, think about if all they do is hit at the tail end of their contract. Hank Aaron (A Miguel Cabrera comparison) still hit forty home runs and hit .300 when he was thirty nine. Thirty nine years young. Cabrera’s deal ends in 2015. He isn’t going to be thirty nine then, but he is still going to hit. Fielder is in the same boat. He isn’t drawing the same comparisons. But he’s going to hit for a while.

Milwaukee – D+

Milwaukee lost their face of the franchise. They might lose Ryan Braun for 50 games due to a PEDs. They replaced the two of them with Aramis Ramirez and presumably Mat Gamel or someone like that. That’s a real nice pitch to season ticket holders, “come see Aramis Ramirez, T-Plush and a guy who has yet to hit his prime!” (Note the heavy, and I mean heavy, sarcasm.)

Seattle – C-

The M’s traded for Jesus Montero. He’s there future now. The M’s probably would have been a little reluctant to invest in Fielder with Montero and fellow trade-centerpiece Justin Smoak in town. All three are probably the same type of guy, and the latter two are younger and cheaper (the M’s new motto, also see lack of power). Fielder is probably an upgrade over Smoak, as he is over most anyone let alone Smoak. It probably would have been nice for Seattle fans (not myself) to hear something like “We tried, we offered him a big deal, but we tried.” Seattle may never have been in the race and were just media fodder, but still it would have been nice to hear an “I tried.”

Washington Nationals- B

The Nationals gave Jayson Werth a ridiculous contract. Ridiculous. To put that much into Fielder might have been a stretch. Now Fielder and Werth aren’t the same players, but it’s a lot of cash to go around. The Nationals also have the present and future to think about. Bryce Harper is probably going to play in a corner outfield spot. Werth is already in one spot. Mike Morse is at first along with Adam LaRoche. Granted most any guys would probably be moved out of the way to make way for Fielder (read anyone not named Miguel Cabrera). Morse and LaRoche obviously aren’t Cabrera, but they aren’t the worst options either. In fact, they are a pretty good darn pairing at first.

Chicago Cubs- Incomplete

We aren’t sure if they were in it, just like Seattle. The new Cubs brass has brought in Anthony Rizzo as well as other pieces in a bit of a rebuilding year. The Cubs have their first baseman, and they don’t need another.

Prince Fielder is a Tiger. The Tigers won. The Brewers and Mariners lost, and it’s as simple as that.

Tigers Sign Prince Fielder (Go ahead Tigers fans, go ballistic!)…..

Also start throwing out your “maybe next year” quotes for M’s and Nationals fans. (Also, incidentally the only two teams that have never been to the World Series.)

The Tigers won 95 games last year and essentially replaced an injured Victor Martinez with Prince Fielder.

Martinez tore his ACL. He’ll be out for a while, an October return would be a plus at this point.

The Tigers replaced him with Fielder. Can you imagine the offensive potential of a lineup of Cabrera and Fielder? And then if and when V-Mart gets healthy… I’ve been bouncing off walls ever since this story broke and am still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that this just happened.

The V-Mart injury created a dilemma for Detroit. They were still favored to win the Central, but the hole Martinez created was huge. There is probably only a select list of guys you could pick to fill in for him. That list probably includes guys like Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Matt Kemp maybe a Joey Votto in there. Guess what? The Tigers just replaced him with one of the guys on the list.

And remember, Victor Martinez is only out for this year. Fielder is supposedly signing a nine-year deal. Cabrera is around for a long time with his contract. Think about that 3-4-5 lineup when everyone is healthy. Think about the pitching that the hitters will be scoring runs for. Think about Verlander’s numbers next year. He had an amazing season last year. Verlander lost games against Boston and LA of Anaheim by a run each. He also had two losses of two runs to Texas and the Yankees. With Fielder in the lineup this season those kind of losses might disappear for the reigning MVP all together. Last year’s Cy Young winner is going to be good with or without Fielder. Think about the rest of the rotation. Think about them pitching in a park that is not friendly to hitters whatsoever. Think about the run support they will get with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. Think about the headaches opposing managers will get having to stare down a lineup with maybe the two best hitters in the game.

Don’t think about the money that is involved. Don’t think that they grossly overpaid the Prince. Don’t think that you’re paying Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Prince Fielder millions and millions of dollars to play the same position. Most teams would kill, heck some teams might trade entire minor league affiliates, for these guys. Some teams (cough Seattle Mariners cough) need the hitting to even think about competing.

I would take these three guys over any other 3-4-5 middle of the lineup out there. (This isn’t just a Tigers fan voicing his opinion, most “experts” would probably tell you the same thing.) This group is better than the Angels, better than the Rangers and, gasp, better than those heavily favored and subject to lots of bias, Yankees-Red-Sox-Phillies lineups.

Back to the money, don’t attack the Tigers for giving him a lot of money. Yes, there is a lot of money going around between the Tigers middle of the order. The outfield isn’t obnoxiously overpaid, neither are a lot of the pitchers. The Yankees are paying Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson a lot in the outfield.

Their entire infield is overpaid. Derek Jeter and A-Rod are on the wrong side of thirty. Teixeira is on the hook for a lot. Robinson is the one left out in the infield millionaire row. He’s on the tail-end of a sad sack five-year 44 million dollar deal.  (Notice the heavy sarcasm).

AJ Burnett is one of the best examples of a possibly overpaid player due to his Jekyll and Hyde tendencies on the field. CC Sabathia is probably the one guy who is paid the right amount on the team.

Can anyone say that Daisuke Matsuzaka is paid correctly? How about Bobby Jenks making six million dollars as a non setup role. He isn’t even closing. Let alone setting up the closer. Philadelphia is giving Joe Blanton eight million dollars as a potential swing man.

Don’t fuss about the money. Fuss if you’re a Cleveland Indians fan. Or a White Sox fan. You just lost the division by 15 games last year to Detroit. (That was the Indians, Chitown was worse.) The Indians were making a fuss of choosing over Casey Kotchman or the-now-off-the-market Carlos Pena. And now the team you lost the division to by 15 games (holy schnikies) just signed Prince Fielder. (Again, holy schnikies).

Holy Schnikies. Theme of the day. Holy Schnikies. Get ready for one hell of an offensive year for Jimmy Leyland’s Tigers club.

(Watch out when V-Mart gets back!)

Holy Schnikies!

(your Seattle Mariners working title here)

The Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim) are all in next season. Meanwhile, the Oakland A’s dealt their two best players, frontline starting pitchers Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahil, to NL clubs for prospects in what is presumably a rebuilding year. The Seattle Mariners on the other hand…. Eh…

We’ve been over the fact that the Michael Pineda-Jesus Montero swap was a little confusing for a number of reasons. The Mariners aren’t in a real rebuilding mode. They are trying to win with a roster that probably isn’t going to get it done.

The pitching for Seattle is good for a 76-86 record. Felix Hernandez is the best pitcher in baseball not named Justin Verlander. Brandon League is a solid closer. Jason Vargas is a quality pitcher. There isn’t a lack of pitching here in the northwest, but rather a lack of hitting.

The hitting is the issue. Texas and the Angels both have somewhat balanced attacks from the mound and the plate. Oakland’s pitching numbers will always be a smidgen better due to their ballpark. Seattle is in Oakland’s boat, but there’s a big difference.

Have you heard the phrase “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”? Well the Mariners are broke and they need fixing (not financially, they’re fine, but you get the point).

There is no rebuilding project plans in Seattle. They aren’t even throwing out their failed attempts to improve their hitting. There are no Richie Sexson or Adrian Beltre transactions coming. No mid-season Ben Broussard or Eduardo Perez addition. Not even an opportunity to buy migraine pills for watching Milton Bradley. Nada.

Here’s what the M’s need to do: blow it up. At least from an offensive stand point they do. Ichiro is on the wrong side of 30 and is coming off a down year. Franklin Gutierrez is coming off an injury-riddled year. There aren’t a lot of players outside of those two and Dustin Ackley that are going to make people lose a lot of sleep.

The catcher position is confusing from the point of having Miguel Olivo, Adam Moore, John Jaso and potentially Jesus Montero in the mix. There’s a lot of offensive-minded players there, but not in a lot of other places.

If the Mariners are going to win, or even come close to it, they are going to have to hit.

Give the AL Central Some Love

If you ask a casual fan to name the four best teams in the American League you will probably get some combination of Texas, New York, Boston and the Angels. Yes, they probably have the biggest pay rolls in the league.  Yes, they made the three biggest signings of the offseason (Albert Pujols, CJ Wilson and Yu Darvish). Yes, they could make a fourth (Prince Fielder). Yes, they have represented the AL in the last five World Series. Yes, they sport one of the biggest cash cows in sports (Yankees). And yes, they are probably four of the bigger markets in the country.

But people need to get to start giving the Central some love. No one seems to be talking about Detroit, who despite losing Victor Martienz to injury still have the best pitcher in the league and the best hitter in the league. Also Jim Leyland is the “winningest” active manager in the game. Throw in the league’s best closer last year, Jose Valverde, and one of the better catchers for the next decade in Alex Avila and you’ve got one hell of a team.

It should also be noted that the division isn’t just Detroit (it will be next year), but Kansas City will be pretty good too. The Royals have arguably the most talented farm system in the league that will set them up for a long time. They also have a pretty good young core that’s at the Major League level. Lots to like in Kansas City. They won’t surpass Detroit for a while, but they’ll be in the mix.

The White Sox aren’t without their own hype as they welcome in a new era led by new manager Robin Ventura and potential young stars Dayan Viciedo, Gordon Beckham and Chris Sale.

Cleveland also has its coup of young up-and-comers despite the Fausto Carmona situation (had to mention it at some point). The coup includes Carlos Santana Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis.

Minnesota is also a team in the AL Central. As you can see I’m very excited about them (bored voice)… they have a lot of pieces… blah blah blah. Minnesota is in a rebuilding year and has a high pick in the draft (number two overall), and  it will get worse before it gets better. The point is that it will get better for Minnesota, whenever that may be, it will get better. But all hope isn’t lost, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau can still hit.

The underlying theme spoiler alert of the day is that the Central is not the cellar dweller of the division, or not the worst by any stretch. We know absolutely nothing about the Angels, they haven’t even stepped on the field as a team yet. Yu Darvish will run into a wall at some point from an adjustment point of view. Prince Fielder’s zip code is yet to be determined. Don’t write off the Central, now or later.

Can the Rays Win with Their New Middle of the Order?

The answer is yes, but probably due to their pitching. Rave all you want about the exceedingly good pitching led by “Big-Game” James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and phenom Matt Moore. Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann aren’t too bad either.

The point is that the Rays need to win with their hitting. We know the pitching will be there, but will the bats? You can probably pencil Evan Longoria in for twenty something homeruns and 90 or 100 RBI. Ben Zobrist will give you double-digit homers at almost any position you play him. BJ Upton and Matt Joyce are both streaky hitters and can tear it up at times. Desmond Jennings is an extremely talented, young player in the outfield. If I sound like I’m praising the Rays, I’m not. I’m listing players. Outside of Longoria there is not a real power threat in the lineup. The Rays added first-base-corner-outfield-DH type Luke Scott as well as a familiar face in former-Ray and now current-Ray Carlos Pena.

Pena and Scott need to hit for the Rays to win. They got by last year with a more pitcher oriented team. They (as a team) need to hit for more power if they are going to win this year.

How do You Replace Victor Martinez?

I’ve covered the fact that Victor Martinez is out for the year. Now the question is how the Tigers replace him, and who with.

The name Prince Fielder tends to come to mind for a team who needs a middle of the order bat. The Tigers might have some interest, but Fielder is quite a large financial commitment, even a one-year deal.

The Tigers first and cheapest option, at this point is to move Delmon Young to DH and then put  Andy Dirks and/or Clete Thomas in his outfield slot.

Young would give them a solid bat at the DH spot, and give Detroit the opportunity to put maybe a more versatile defender in Young’s place (i.e. Dirks and Thomas).

As stated that’s the Tigers’ cheapest option, and it probably doesn’t require a roster move. This way you don’t risk losing a player to waivers.

Detroit could also go digging in the free agent bin or the bargain bin. Former Tigers could be a big draw for Dave Dombrowski:  Johnny Damon, Magglio Ordonez and Marcus Thames are out there. So are established hitters like Derek Lee, Hideki Matsui and JD Drew.

Raul Ibanez is a player who could be a great fit in Detroit. Dude can hit. He’s driven in at least 84 runs every year except one since 2002, and each of those seasons put up at least 16 bombs a year. You’re talking about double digit homers and at least 80 RBIs per year for a guy who could come pretty cheaply. I’ll take it! He also is a .280 career hitter despite a season last year in which he hit an uncharacteristic .245. That will go up when you hit around a guy named Miguel Cabrera.

A piggy-back option to the earlier move-Delmon-Young-to-DH thought would be to make it a rotating door of sorts. Put Don Kelly at first and give Miguel Cabrera the day off in the field. The next day, put Dirks in the outfield and give Young or Brennan Boesch the day off. There is a smorgasbord of options to pick from.

The trade market is another one of many routes to go for the Tigers; the Angels have a log jam at DH with Mark Trumbo, Kendrys Morales and Bobby Abreu. Morales would be a very intriguing fit if he can return to pre-injury form. Trumbo is another fit, but once V-Mart comes back next year, he will be out of places to play regularly.

Yoenis Cepedes is probably the most serious target for Detroit. Not only can he provide an impact bat behind Cabrera, but once V-Mart comes back he can slide into the outfield. Not to mention the fact that he’s a potential star.

Should You Break up the Big 3?

The Boston Celtics won a ring with the “Big 3” that consisted of and still somewhat consists of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.

Now the team is a little different. Ok, maybe a lot different. Now the team is in the hands of 26 year-old point guard Rajon Rondo. Rondo was on their championship team, but was looked at as more of a fourth option.

Gone are role players like Tony Allen, Glen “Big Baby” Davis, Eddie House and Leon Powe. Arrived are their current place holders such as Chris Wilcox, Sasha Pavlovic, Keyon Dooling and Mickael Pietrus. Gone also is defensive stalwart Kendrick Perkins, only to be replaced with somewhat offensive center (at this point of his career) Jermaine O’Neal.

This team is going to look like the Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green Show in a couple years, with a hint of Avery Bradley, if the Celtics don’t do anything.

This isn’t a bad young core, but let’s face it, the NBA landscape will probably change in a couple of years and will continue to change with time.

Underlying theme spoiler alert: the Celtics need to make changes.

Not necessarily at this juncture, but depending on their play towards the trade deadline, a couple trades should be made.

If the Celtics are sitting at 10th or 11th in the East towards the trade deadline, they should make a move or two. If they’re somewhere in the 5th to 7th range, then maybe they pick up a bought out contract guy (i.e. Antawn Jamison) to boost the team. If the latter happens, then they should aim for turning over the roster to some extent in the offseason.

To get back to the title, yes you should break up the Big 3. Paul Pierce is probably the last to go, but then again is the most marketable to some extent. Kevin Garnett is probably a keeper for now due to Boston’s problems in the post. Ray Allen could be the most useful to other teams due to the fact that his shooting ability would help anyone.

Obviously at this stage in their careers the C’s aren’t exactly going to get what they gave up for players like Allen and Garnett.

(Ray Allen is the exception, because the Celtics really did trade Jeff Green ,at that time the pick, to the Sonics for Allen.)

Nor are the Celtics going to have Al Jefferson fall into their laps in exchange for KG.

Obviously the Celtics would like a return like the previously listed two, to move them into the next couple of years at a competitive rate.

If you look at veteran players who were still productive on the down spin of their careers and were traded, the return isn’t huge, but it isn’t too bad either.

The Wizards got a first round pick, the chance to buy out Zydrunas Ilgauskas’s contract (which they did) and a low risk, high reward Al Thornton for Antawn Jamison.

In a three-team deal the Rockets got Kevin Martin, Jordan Hill, the chance to buy out Jared Jeffries’s contract (they did) and Hilton Armstrong for Tracey McGrady, Carl Landry and Joey Dorsey. This wasn’t a straight up swap, but it was a good acquisition for Houston.

New Jersey got Courtney Lee, Rafer Alston and Tony Battie out of Vince Carter via the Orlando Magic. Lee isn’t with the team, but the Nets got Troy Murphy’s expiring contract for him to help them toward Darren Williams and potentially Dwight Howard.

Miami got Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks for a declining Shaq. The two were later flipped for Jermaine O’Neal and Jamario Moon. These contracts expired right before the offseason in which they brought in LeBron and Chris Bosh.

Denver got Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson. You look at that trade, there is no youth involved whatsoever, but Billups played well in Denver and was certainly a better fit than AI. He was then moved to the Big Apple with Melo for a plethora of young pieces and picks that included Danillo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and a first-round pick of the Warriors (potential gold mine!) in 2014.

These are probably easier targets to achieve for Boston. Maybe the trade doesn’t work out at first, but down the road they will gain something out of the pieces or cap space picked up in the trade.

Another underlying theme spoiler alert: Celtics need to build for the future soon.