Kingdome Crossover- Why Michael Saunders Is the Most Important Player in the Seattle Mariners’ Lineup

Here is a piece I wrote over at http://www.kingdomeofseattlesports.com/ on why Michael Saunders is the most important player in the M’s lineup. Thought you all might enjoy it.

Big name additions Mike Morse and Kendrys Morales might be viewed as the most important players in the M’s lineup. It might be the development of budding stars Jesus Montero, Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager. Or it could be Michael Saunders.

Michael Saunders who hit .727 (that being 8 for 11 for all of you who didn’t major in some sort of math at MIT) in the World Baseball Classic. Michael Saunders, who I gave the nickname Grand Torrido to despite “Torrido” meaning torrid in Italian and the M’s having one of the more prominent Italian players in the game of baseball in their organization: Alex Liddi. Whatever, Saunders is the most important player in the lineup and this is why.

He extends the lineup.

The M’s current group of hitters, which I so pleasantly outlined for you here, comprises of a lot of power hitters. Or lack of top-of-the-order guys. Dustin Ackley will likely hit leadoff, something he can do, but probably would be slightly better utilized elsewhere in the lineup. Ackley also isn’t a speed demon on the base paths, something the M’s haven’t had since Ichiro.

Even if you hit Ackley leadoff, you don’t have a full time number-two hitter. Morse and Morales will hit in the middle of the order. As will Jesus Montero. Brendan Ryan fits the bottom half of the lineup better. Kyle Seager probably belongs with the first group. That really only leaves Saunders, Guti and Smoak/whoever plays first as your options. Smoak/first base committee is a no. Obviously. After that it’s a tossup of either Guti or Grand Torrido. Guti is well… I don’t know if he personifies a two-hole hitter.  That leaves Saunders.

In the piece I noted that you could hit Guti second because of his penchant to get extra base hits. Something that looks really good when happening in front of the big boys in the order. But Guti isn’t a big speed guy. Something you need at the top of the order. Ackley, as mentioned, isn’t a huge speed demon, so you need as much extra speed as you can get at the top of the order. Saunders, I will add, lead the team in stolen bases as well as placing second in extra-base hits. That not only plays into his candidacy for the second spot in the order but for hitting down in the order, say in the five spot.

I also wrote about how Saunders lost it with his torrid hitting in the WBC, hitting behind two established, middle of the order guys. I’m not saying Morse and Morales are Joey Votto and Justin Morneau, but the comparison is somewhat plausible. The point is that if you hit Saunders behind two good middle-of-the-order hitters, he will produce.

If you hit him there, he also adds speed in that position as well. Something (speed) that the Mariners need at nearly every position.

Whether you hit Saunders second or fifth, he is going to be an integral part of the M’s. Extending the lineup with his speed or slugging, Saunders is going to be a big part of the M’s this year.

You can see the piece in all it’s glory at kingdome here. 

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?

The Cleveland Indians Should Have Pulled the Trigger on A Certain Asdrubal Cabrera Trade

It’s been tossed around that Cleveland is shopping their shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. It is also common knowledge that Arizona wants to trade their own star player, Justin Upton. It’s equally common knowledge that the Diamondbacks really want a shortstop. And what’s even more plain to public perception is the Texas Rangers’ desire to find a power bat to take Josh Hamilton’s place.

That seems like decent grounds for a trade, right?

The supposed proposed trade would have sent Cabrera to Arizona, Upton to Texas and rising stars Mike Olt and Trevor Bauer to Cleveland.

What on Earth is wrong with Cleveland?

I know that it’s a three-team trade, so everybody has to be on board with it, but come on, make this trade. Continue reading

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

Torii Hunter’s Impact with the Detroit Tigers

I’ll admit I didn’t see the signing coming; I’m a bit of a homer when it comes to placing trust in Andy Dirks, Brennan Boesch and Quintin Berry, so I didn’t want the signing initially. But the more I look at it, the more there is to like.  Yes, Hunter is getting up there in years, but after further digging, he’s still a very good player in this league despite being 37.

Last season, the Tigers were knocked for not having a good defensive team. That criticism was mainly placed on the infield. But in terms of “elite” defenders, the only one the Tigers had who could change a game in the field was Austin Jackson. Infield aside, the corner outfielders were a tad suspect with the glove. Dirks, Boesch, Berry and Avisail Garcia’s collective number of runs saved above average per 1,200 innings (from the folks over at baseball-reference) was -26. Dirks was the only one of the group whose number was a positive one with three runs scored above average. The point here is that the overall defense in the outfield corners could have been better. Enter Hunter, who despite being nearly a decade older than every one of the previous four, saved 16 runs above average per 1,200 innings.

The beauty of the signing is this: yes, Hunter is valued defensively, and maybe he was needed defensively, but he also brings a whole lot to the table offensively. So often teams bring in an outfielder or use an internal option that is a far superior defender, but lacks completely with the bat.  Teams feel they need to upgrade defensively and save runs there and completely mail it in offensively. But this is the beauty of the signing. Hunter upgrades the defense and offense drastically.

The other bonus of having Hunter as well as Jackson in the outfield means Jim Leyland has his pick of outfielders to use strategically on a game-to-game basis, whether that be Berry, Garcia, Boesch or Dirks.

The Tigers won the American League pennant last year. They also won it, when at times the death-row duo of Miguel Cabrera and Fielder looked like the walking dead. But now Victor Martinez will be 100% healthy, and Torii Hunter joins the mix. Death row just got a whole lot deadlier.

Wrapping Up the Tigers’ Regular Season: MVP Voting, Playoffs and More

While the much-hyped MVP discussion is heating up, the regular season is cooling down.

The Tigers joined the San Francisco Giants, Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds as the only teams in baseball to clinch their own divisions.  Also joining those clubs in October baseball are the Atlanta Braves,  New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers and Oakland A’s. The Tigers also became the first AL team to clinch their division. The second year in a row that they’ve done that.

But really, no one is reading too much into the playoffs. Yet. Now, the baseball-related discussions are about that AL MVP race and something you might have heard of called the Triple Crown.

Coincidentally or not, both of those discussions involve one Miguel Cabrera who also plays for the Tigers.

Triple Crown & MVP

I’ll start with the Triple Crown first, to get it out of the way.

Continue reading

Silencing the Tigers’ Haters

Much has been made of the Tigers’ “inconsistent” play as of late, as well as the fact that they aren’t in first place in a “weak” division.

This is all irrelevant. Or, unwarranted rather.  The Tigers have, if not the best, then one of the best records in the league since the end of June.

The division is another thing entirely. Yes, the Tigers sit two games out of first place Chicago, but on the year, Detroit has a 7-5 record against the Sox. That’s tied for the most wins the Tigers have against any other club this year. The other two teams the Tigers have seven wins against are Minnesota and Kansas City, which Detroit is a combined 14-6 against. Which brings us to this point, of the 40 games left, twenty six of them are against those teams. Six more of those scheduled games are against the Angels, who Detroit has won three of the four meetings with this year.

So add it all up, and the Tigers, if all goes as it has been going, should end up with the division title. This would in turn remove them from the wildcard-playoff-shtick. Continue reading

What Derrick Rose’s Injury Means for The Bulls

An ACL ligament might have dropped bona-fide title-contenders to team-who-could-be-eliminated.

Let me explain.

Derrick Rose has torn his ACL. As stated, it could drop the Bulls out of the playoffs all together.

And this time I won’t reiterate, I’ll explain.

The Bulls were built around Derrick Rose. That’s not to say they can’t win without him, it’s just going to be tough. This team is built on defense and supporting pieces around the MVP. None of the other players are guys who are going to carry a team. Carlos Boozer can score, but works better with Rose. Luol Deng could be a possibility, as could Rip Hamilton. Outside of that there aren’t a lot of consistent high-volume scoring options. Ashton Kutcher Kyle Korver is a three-point specialist at best. There aren’t a lot of bright spots that stand out without Rose.

The injury means the Bulls have to take up a new identity. One like the Detroit Pistons teams of the mid-late 2000s. They, like the Pistons team that went to the Finals and won, have a defensive-minded center, who doesn’t need consistent touches (Joakim Noah) like a Ben Wallace.  They also have a talented four-man who, when on, is a deadly scoring option, (Carlos Boozer) like a Rasheed Wallace. Then there’s each teams’ long, ace perimeter defender who can also score (Luol Deng for the Bulls, Tayshaun Prince for Detroit). Each team even has the same shooting guard (Rip Hamilton), so no explanation there. The one glaring difference with the two teams is the point guard position. In clutch time, Detroit went right to Mr. Big Shot (Chauncey Billups). The Bulls predictably did the same with Rose. Now the topic of conversation leads to who replaces Rose. To be honest, even if Chicago could go out and get any other point guard they wanted, the only ones who would fill the gap are Chris Paul and maybe Russell Westbrook. The last similarity between the teams is that neither team has a defined top scorer. Just a bunch of guys who can get it done when called upon. (This is the Bulls without Derrick Rose, mind you).

Now the Bulls are without Rose and are knotted at one game-a-piece with Philly in the first round. Will we see the team that sinks without their MVP and point guard, or will we see a team that reminds us of the Pistons of somewhat-old?

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.

The Good Old What If Game: Felix Hernandez’s Lack of Run Support

Felix Hernandez might be the best pitcher in baseball not to win an MVP and Cy Young in the same season.

For a prime example of his skill look at the 2010 season when he won only 13 games to 12 losses and still won the Cy. But to be fair, Hernandez not only led the league in ERA, but also pitched the most innings, faced the most batters and had the fewest hits per 9 innings pitched of any pitcher in the league.

It should be noted that the Mariners offense was a complete juggernaut, ranked at an un-godly 28th in the league.

(Sarcasm, sarcasm and sarcasm)

But to be honest, ranking 28th is probably juggernaut-like for the Mariners, who have ranked last in the league in offense the past two seasons.

During those seasons, Hernandez won the aforementioned Cy Young and then followed it up with a 14-14 year in which he had an almost identical campaign to the Cy Year, but allowed 19 more runs in one less start.

I was talking with a friend about why Justin Verlander was the best in baseball from a pitching standpoint. I started with his 24 wins mainly because that’s what you see on the stat line. I got a response somewhere along the lines of “that’s talking like a kindergartener.”

That is how far the concept of wins has fallen. And to a degree I agree that winning games isn’t everything, but winning 24 is completely ridiculous. We haven’t seen a ton of twenty winners in the past couple years, and the one that we have seen have been along the lines of 20 or 21. Barely scratching the surface, barely getting across the line.

Wins are on the way out in baseball people’s eyes

But here’s my take on it, if you have 13-17 wins like Felix Hernandez, and then do so much more statistically that it blows people away, then the win total certainly doesn’t bear as much weight.

On the other hand, if you have do have the number of wins like a Verlander, and do everything else, then it’s no contest.

Back to King Felix, let’s not forget that in the past three years, he has not only pitched on a horrendous team (’09 is an outlier), but has received historically, maybe the worst run support ever.

Even in the Mariners best season of those three years (’09), the teeth of their lineup included Russell Branyan (another use of the word “outlier” as Branyan had his best years in Seattle and hasn’t been the same sense – who knew Safeco could do that to a hitter?), Jose Lopez, a struggling Adrian Beltre and a declining Ken Griffey Jr.

Their certainly were other attempts to get the King run support, Milton Bradley was one, Jack Cust another. But the future does look a bit brighter in the Emerald City with youngsters Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero ready to hit their primes in Mariners uniforms.

The point here is that Felix Hernandez was spectacular, even winning a Cy Young without a steady supply of run support. He has established himself as a top-3 pitcher in the entire-freaking-league without it.

Now what if he gets run support?