Kingdome Crossover: Seattle Mariners: Signing Nelson Cruz Doesn’t Guarantee Success

Rumored Mariner signing Nelson Cruz would add a powerful bat to a lineup already bolstered by the arrivals of Robinson Cano and Corey Hart. What signing Cruz doesn’t do is guarantee success.

An offensive triumvirate of Cruz, Cano and Kyle Seager isn’t one to balk at, and is a wonderful foundation for the team moving forward, but in terms of success, it guarantees nothing.

In most divisions, like say the NL West, these kinds of additions (Cano, Cruz, Hart) would push a team towards the top of the table. Not so much with the Mariners in the AL West.

The rest of the division is stocked. The Mariners’ rise to “playoff-contender” status, if not the realm of respectability, has vaulted the division to a ridiculous level. On paper, the Angels, A’s and Rangers all have the talent to be playoff teams. Throw in Seattle, and you end up with a lot of unhappy teams come the postseason.

It wouldn’t be completely surprising to see, even with Cano and friends, the M’s finish in the same exact place in the standings as last year. They’re probably going to have an improved record, but as stated, the division is stacked.

If one thing is clear after watching postseason baseball, it’s that pitching is needed to contend. Teams like Detroit, Boston, St. Louis and Oakland found great success last year with tremendous staffs. And it wasn’t just those four teams; most playoff teams boasted strong pitching. Great pitching is nearly synonymous with a playoff squad now-a-days.

Which brings the topic of one-way conversation in the piece to the Mariners’ pitching.

The M’s will use some combination of Erasmo Ramirez, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Brandon Maurer and recent signing Scott Baker for the last three spots in the rotation. This is where question marks come into play. Moving into the future, both Walker and Paxton figure to be mainstays in the Seattle rotation thanks to their fantastic potential, but between them they have a grand total of 39 innings at the big league level. Whether they continue to show promise or hit a wall remains to be seen.

Ramirez and Maurer have both shown flashes of potential in the past, but the jury remains largely out on the pair. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Baker, given his experience and quality, leapfrog one or both of them to claim a rotation spot. The bottom line is that the Mariners’ rotation could show the promise and poise that Oakland’s young hurlers have shown, or they could continue to display the growing pains that have plagued the team.

If anything, a potential Cruz signing puts more pressure on the rotation to succeed. The one-time Brewer coupled with Cano, Hart and Logan Morrison would vastly improve a team that had issues scoring runs. The run output in Seattle should, at the very least, be slightly above average. The Mariners need their young pitchers to step up. If they can do this, Seattle will be in a position to contend. If not, well let’s just say get ready for all those low-scoring losses to turn into higher-scoring losses.

You can see the piece on Kingdome as well.

The Mariners Really Need to Trade Felix Hernandez

The Upper Echelons of Major League Pitchers-

  1. Justin Verlander
  2. David Price, Felix Hernandez, CC Sabathia, Roy Halladay, Clayton Kershaw, Jered Weaver
  3. Matt Cain, RA Dickey , James Shields, Zack Grienke, Cole Hamels, Gio Gonzalez
  4. Cliff Lee, Stephen Strasburg,  Yu Darvish, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Johnny Cueto
  5. Ian Kennedy, Anibal Sanchez, Jon Lester, Yovani Gallardo, Trevor Cahill, Jordan Zimmerman etc.

Those, in a nutshell, are the top pitchers in baseball. Notice the placement of RA Dickey and James Shields. Both have been traded in the last month, yet both are ranked below (in my estimate) Felix Hernandez. In addition to those two big offseason moves, the Angels signed Josh Hamilton. I say this for one reason, Texas isn’t going anywhere,  and Los Angeles just added Hamilton to their team. The other team in the division is Oakland who, I might point out, was probably the second best team in the AL playoffs last year.

Regardless of Seattle’s current talent (meh,) the team is in a stacked division. Anything besides last place is probably a miracle (barring an Angels’ season-long flop.)

The team isn’t going anywhere soon. Thus it makes sense to trade Felix Hernandez, especially since their top two pitching prospects (Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen) are ranked fourth and eighth in terms of the top 100 prospects in the game per Jonathan Mayo.

There are two, if not three, (James Paxton could be special as well) potential Hernandez replacements waiting in the system. Yes, the fences are being moved in and the Mariners need to sell tickets, but dealing Hernandez makes sense.

Let’s put a few things out there. One, Hernandez is four years younger than Shields and twelve younger than Dickey. Not surprisingly, King Felix is a much better pitcher than both. The point on Shields, or even Dickey, is that Shields fetched the number three overall prospect (again all this per Mayo,) Wil Myers, who has at least “star” potential if not more. Another prospect that went to Tampa was starter Jake Odorizzi, ranked the 30th best in all of baseball. Tampa also picked up two other prospects who are ranked in the top 20 of their system.

New York got the 11th and 83rd best prospects in the game by selling high on a 38-year old.

What I’m getting at, if you haven’t gotten there first, is that the Rays and Mets got some of the better packages of prospects that the trading market has seen in the past few years. I would think that the Mariners would want to cash in with a haul of that kind.

The Mariners need a hitter to lead them into the next phase of the franchise (hopefully contending.) I’m sure they’d jump at a package of Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt (not that Texas would consider that seriously.) But Seattle needs a corner stone. They need the next Miguel Cabrera or Evan Longoria. They need someone who can carry a team on his backs/bats. Maybe Felix Hernandez is the way to find that player.

Surely if James Shields and RA Dickey can fetch outstanding hauls of prospects, then a younger and better pitcher (Felix Hernandez) can get a better one.

What do you think? Should the Mariners trade King Felix or should they keep him and try to contend?

Miguel Cabrera Wins the AL MVP: Finally Putting the Debate to Bed

The race for the American League MVP is over. Some may find the occasion a joyous one (i.e. myself, other Tigers fans, “baseball traditionalists,” Cabrera himself) while others’ thinking tends to side with the other side of the coin (i.e. “statisticians”, “stat geeks” and probably every White Sox fan in America).

Cabrera rightfully won. That’s the big point here, but there are a few things I want to hit on before I finally put the matter to bed myself. Continue reading

MLB Thanks: It’s Not Thanksgiving, But it Certainly Isn’t Too Early to Say Thanks to Baseball Part 2

I have to give thanks to my team, the Detroit Tigers, thanks for a tremendous season.

Another bit of joint-thanks goes out to the Chicago White Sox. They’ve done a tremendous job of not making the playoffs recently. I’m sure AJ Pierzynski is thrilled with the fact that he’s been to the World Series more as a color analyst than as a player. And he hasn’t retired yet.

Thanks to R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets for reestablishing America’s belief in the knuckler. Continue reading

Can’t Live Without ‘Em: American League

(Disclaimer: You can live without these players, it certainly doable.)

Injuries happen. Trades happen. Prolonged, bench-worthy stints occur. Players might not be there.

Whether that player is your everyday superstar or fourth outfielder, the loss means something. But in the case of the superstar, it can sometimes mean a lot.

Teams and the Players They Can’t Live Without:

(Starting in the AL West and moving east through the AL, I’ll have another one coming soon on the NL.)

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: None. Not kidding in the slightest. Even if their big, new-fangled signing Albert Pujols breaks down at some point, either Kendrys Morales or Mark Trumbo will be there to step in. Rotation-wise, I might say Jered Weaver simply because his replacement won’t likely come close to his production.

Texas Rangers- Joe Nathan. Again, not what you’d think. If the Rangers lose any one of their infielders Michael Young will step in more than adequately. The outfield is a little more in question, but Craig Gentry usually gets the job done. I say Nathan because, while Texas has depth in the bullpen, it isn’t necessarily closer depth. Koji Uehara, Mike Adams and Alexi Ogando only have 18 saves combined in their careers, and 13 of them are Uehara’s. (Just a quick aside, Mike Adams is an almost-less-than pedestrian 4-20 in save opportunities in his career. If you’re doing the math at home, yes Ogando only has one career save.) All that is basically blogspeak for: The Rangers might go into a colossal bullpen-tailspin if Nathan can’t hold it down.

Oakland A’s- Yoenis Cespedes or Jemile Weeks. It’s not as if the Athletics can’t live without them, or play for that matter. It’s that they probably wouldn’t like to stunt the players growth/developments (whatever term lights your fire).

Seattle Mariners- Chone Figgins. I’d say Jesus Montero for reasons listed above, but the M’s need the Figgy Pudding to maintain his trade value by playing well.

 

Detroit Tigers- Justin Verlander. The Tigers, like the Angels, have good depth. Also like the Angels, the potential loss of the reigning MVP would only hurt Detroit from the standpoint that the replacement couldn’t put up Verlander’s numbers unless his name is Felix Hernandez.

Kansas City Royals- Either of the Corner Infielders. Just as with Oakland, KC needs their young players to get time under their respective belts. The loss of a potential trade candidate like a Mitch Maier or Jeff Francoeur could also endanger those players’ trade values.

Chicago White Sox- Adam Dunn. The Sox need Dunn to stay healthy so he can prove that his signing wasn’t a complete-and-utter waste. The potential loss of Paul Konerko could send this team into the cellar after the way they played last year. Dayan Viciedo could benefit from getting a good deal of playing time as well.

Cleveland Indians- Asdrubal Cabrera and Ubaldo Jimenez. Cabrera is at the center of everything the team does on both sides of the box score. Jimenez, meanwhile, needs to prove that the Rockies didn’t straight-up rob the Indians’ entire store of prospects.

(Weird side note, have you noticed that a lot of the Indians players previously played in Seattle? Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo, Casey Kotchman, Derek Lowe, Jack Hannahan and Jose Lopez all donned Mariners uniforms. Weird.)

Minnesota Twins- Whoever is Producing Well at the Time. The Twins have been ransacked by injuries in recent years. They have gone from division champ and perennial sacrifice to the Yankees in the ALDS to basement dweller. To give you more of an idea of how far the Twins have fallen, when you type in “Minnesota” and then a “t” to start the word “twins” you get “Minnesota Timberwolves” as your top suggestion. That’s right, the Twins have fallen past the T-Wolves.

 

New York Yankees- CC Sabathia. The Yankees acquired pitching in the offseason. I’ll give them that, but the loss of their ace could be detrimental. As it is the Yankees seem like they will be a playoff team, whether that is as a wild card or a division winner remains to be seen. Here’s a quick rundown of the AL East as it is for me. Tampa and these Yankees are head and shoulders above the rest of the division. Boston and a not-so-far-behind Toronto are in the next tier that seems to be fighting for a wild card berth. Obviously that leaves Baltimore at the bottom, but we’re moving on. The potential loss of Sabathia drops New York more towards the Sox and Blue Jays than Tampa.

Tampa Bay Rays- Carl Crawford Matt Garza Jason Bartlett. The Rays have shown in the past that when an injury hits, or they lose a player to free agency or trade, they recover. Honestly, Evan Longoria would probably sting the most to lose, but the Rays will probably find a way to replace him. Cause that’s how they roll (as the kids say).

Boston Red Sox- Adrian Gonzalez. Yes, Boston would still have Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz, but the rest of the offense simply isn’t there. Carl Crawford is on the shelf due to injury, leading to outfield woes that also prompted the acquisition of Marlon Byrd. Losing a player like this in the past wouldn’t have been as serious, seeing as Boston’s outfield and rotation were both much stronger than they are now. But because of those weaker factions of the team, the Red Sox might not get by if A-Gon is gone. (Sorry, had to do it.)

Toronto Blue Jays- Jose Bautista. The Jays are going to need their MVP candidate if they want to even have the smallest of smallest shots at contending. Other candidates include Adam Lind and Ricky Romero.

Baltimore Orioles- Anyone who has trade value. The Birds need some pieces, and lots of them. The rotation is a very young group, but the players in the field could use a youth infusion. Adam Jones and Nick Markakis are nice pieces, but something has to give. The O’s need to make some changes to even try to win in God knows when.

Assessing the Cleveland Indians Chances

In the AL Central… No chances at all. I’m just kidding. They have a shot, but then again, so do the Orioles.

Cleveland is certainly head and shoulders above the competition, for second place that is. They are certainly better than Kansas City, for the present at least. They are also better than Minnesota’s current Rochester Red Wings/ injured former stars jumble of a roster. Chicago remains the wild card here. They could certainly be an upstart team under Robin Ventura, or could fail miserably. That being said, the team itself is the definition of inconsistent: Alex Rios, Gordon Beckham and Adam Dunn all had unyielding seasons last year and could do with a solid season, much less a complete comeback and/or return to form.

Back to Cleveland’s bashing… Again I’m only kidding, but it isn’t looking exceptionally bright for the Indians. Prince Fielder signing with the Tigers wasn’t the only big first baseman news in the AL Central. Casey Kotchman moved into Cleveland’s starting lineup, displacing Matt LaPorta in the process. The latter is currently at AAA and waiting for the call should injuries or need reveal themselves.

If Cleveland wants to have the smallest of shots at the division title, they need their pitching to come through for them. It’s going to be a lot of groundballs if everything goes to seed. If everything doesn’t, then it could be a problem.

Justin Masterson is a solid option in the rotation, so is Ubaldo Jimenez. Derek Lowe can also be a dependable cog on a contender, but has shown the tendency in the past to be rather like some Chicago White Sox players: inconsistent.

Cleveland needs all the stars to align. They need to probably lead the league in ground balls, or come close to it. They need to score many more runs than expected with an offense that looks the part of a poor man’s Tampa Bay Rays minus Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena. They also need sheer luck and to catch more than a few breaks.

It’s not ridiculous for them to contend and be successful, just look up the Tigers magical run of 2006. However for Cleveland to win the division, or take a highly coveted wild card spot from the AL East or West, they are going to need a lot of everything.

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.