Kingdome Crossover- Seattle Mariners: Washington Nationals Players Serve as Reminder to What Could Have Been

As the Seattle Mariners watch yet another playoffs from their respective couches, they find themselves wondering what could have been. Or rather, how close they could have been had they acquired or retained certain players.

Nowhere is this more relevant than in Washington, where the Nationals employ four former Mariners and two extremely important pieces of their team that were this close to becoming Mariners. Here’s a look at those players.

Anthony Rendon

Widely panned as the best hitter in his draft class, Rendon was taken sixth overall in the 2011 MLB Draft. The Mariners had the second overall pick that year. They took left-handed pitcher Danny Hultzen, who has had his share of troubles thanks to a rash of injuries. Rendon, on the other hand, led the league in runs scored in 2014 (only his second season in the majors), hit 21 home runs, drove in 83 runs, swiped 17 bags and hit .287 with a .824 OPS.

Positional log jams aside, the Mariners are probably wishing they had Rendon’s bat in their lineup.

Stephen Strasburg

Strasburg is the one player on this list who Seattle didn’t have on their team, or could have drafted. Yet, he still represents one of the biggest, “what ifs?” in Mariners’ history.

Simply put, Seattle and Washington were both awful in 2008. Both had a legitimate shot at the number one overall pick in the upcoming draft – at the time, widely believed to be Strasburg. Seattle won four of its last six to finish 61-101 while Washington lost five of their last six to finish 59-102. The Mariners already have two of the best starters in the league in Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, plus talented youngsters James Paxton and Taijuan Walker. If Strasburg drafted by the M’s and in that rotation, the Mariners’ playoff drought would be a thing of the past.

Doug Fister

The first of many former M’s on this list, Fister was traded from the Emerald City to Detroit along with David Pauley for Charlie Furbush, Casper Wells, Chance Ruffin and minor league prospect Francisco Martinez.

Since then, Fister went on to pitch fantastically in his 2 ½ years in Detroit, posting 32 wins—20 more than his total in 2 ½ years in Seattle— and turning in an ERA under four in every season. He also posted some absurd strikeout-to-walk ratios. Down the stretch in 2011 he struck out 57 batters while walking five over 70 innings.

The players Seattle got in return?

Wells would post decent power numbers in his brief time in Seattle before getting pushed out of a crowded outfield and finding himself with three different organizations not named the Seattle Mariners in 2013. He drove in a singular run in 53 games. Martinez was eventually traded back to Detroit for a PTBNL while Ruffin recently retired. Furbush was the only solid player Seattle got back. He’s provided a dependable reliever, but is buried in a deep bullpen.

Detroit would later send Fister to Washington, but the current Nationals pitcher is just another reminder of what could have been for Seattle.

Matt Thornton and Rafael Soriano

Seattle isn’t short on relievers at the moment, but Thornton and Soriano are two more examples of players who got away. Thornton, a former first round pick of the Mariners, was dealt to Chicago in 2006 for outfielder Joe Borchard. He went on to enjoy a long stint in the Windy City before moving to Boston midway through last season. He won a ring with the Red Sox and split 2014 with the Yankees and Nationals, posting a cumulative 1.75 ERA over 64 innings. For his career, Thornton has a 3.43 ERA in 670 appearances and an All-Star appearance to his name.

Soriano is the more sorely missed of the two. While Fernando Rodney has been superb as the M’s closer, and the has gotten by with a string of quality closers, Soriano has been superb in his career.

Upon leaving Seattle he moved to Atlanta, in a trade that will be addressed later, and in two years posted ERAs of 3.00 and 2.57 before taking over the closer’s role in 2009 and turning in a 2.97 ERA with 27 saves. He was traded to Tampa Bay and promptly led the league with 45 saves. He pitched to a tremendous 1.73 ERA and finished in the top 12 in Cy Young and MVP voting. After a year in Tampa he moved to the Yankees where he had a slight down year with a 4.12 ERA in 42 games before bouncing back to save 42 games and post a 2.26 ERA in 2012. He placed 20th in MVP voting that year. He then signed with Washington where he has accumulated 75 saves over the past two seasons with a collective 3.15 ERA.

Since leaving the Mariners, Soriano has appeared in 469 games, posted a 2.84 ERA and recorded 203 saves.

Now we get to the trade that was mentioned earlier.

The Mariners traded Soriano to the Atlanta Braves for Horacio Ramirez.

Yes, that Horacio Ramirez who’s ERA over 20 starts and 98 innings was 7.16. You heard me correctly, 7.16! Yes, that Horacio Ramirez who let righties hit .340 off of him. Yes, that Horacio Ramirez who allowed lefties to hit .330 against him. Yes, that Horacio Ramirez.

The Mariners traded away a reliever who would become one of the game’s finest at his position for a back-of-the-rotation starter who posted an ERA over seven in nearly 100 innings.

Yikes.

Asdrubal Cabrera

Another Mariner traded away for relatively nothing, Cabrera was lost to Cleveland in “The Great Highway Robbery/Fleecing of 2006.” Cleveland traded Ben Broussard and Eduardo Perez to Seattle in two different trades. Seattle gave up Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera respectively.

Cabrera would go on to establish himself as a premium two-way shortstop, culminating with a 2011 season in which he hit .273 with 25 home runs, 92 runs driven in, 17 stolen bases and a .792 OPS. Cabrera would make two All-Star appearances in Cleveland before moving to Washington at this past trade deadline. While he isn’t a threat to hit anywhere near 25 homers, he still provides pop and solid defense for a middle infielder.

In Conclusion

It’s easy to sit and think, “what if this?” or, “what if that?”, especially with the Mariners. But the reality is that Seattle has a history of letting players go too early, as well has just missing acquiring players who could turn into important cogs. Those players go on to become impact players elsewhere. There are quite a few former Mariners and almost-Mariners in various MLB cities playing vital roles to their teams. The Washington Nationals just happen to have more than most. For the Mariners, it’s a reminder of what could have been.

 

All stats courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.

You can see the piece in it’s entirety on Kingdome of Seattle Sports here.

Detroit Tigers Off-Season: How and Why the Bench Must be Improved

Bench

While the bullpen is, and will continue to be the biggest blemish on the Tigers’ roster, the bench isn’t spectacular either. More depth and quality will be needed in late-inning situations. Yes, the Tigers lineup is fantastic, but sometimes the bottom half of the lineup pales in comparison to the top half. And, as such is much easier to retire. This was brought into focus in the ninth inning of the second and third games of the ALDS against Baltimore as the bottom half wasn’t able to carry out or continue rallies with the game on the line. The Tigers need better hitters off the bench. Whether they arrive via waiver wire, the trade market, free agency, or what have you, help is needed. Dave Dombrowski has to be particularly active in fixing this during the offseason to improve the team’s chances for next year.

Dombrowski has become adept at plucking hitters out of relative obscurity and then watching them become contributing members on the team. He found Quintin Berry, who ended up being a godsend thanks to his added burst of speed into a slow lineup. Swiss army knife/utility specialist Don Kelly was another find. Matt Tuiasosopo was yet another find who provided Jim Leyland with a power hitting alternative off the bench in the legendary skipper’s final season. However, the greatest find may be that of JD Martinez. The former Astro was picked up by Detroit and, after fixing some mechanics with his swing, turned into a legitimate, middle of the order bat.

The Tigers need more production off the bench. Dombrowski isn’t going to find a JD Martinez in every transaction, but he should be actively looking for bench bats.

Yes, the Tigers’ starting lineup is fantastic, but their bench is comparatively futile. With the exception of Kelly, who has a knack for showing up in playoff games, there isn’t much to scare opposing managers or pitchers. Outfielder Ezequiel Carrera is light-hitting at best and is known more for his speed than anything. Andrew Romine and Eugenio Suarez manned shortstop for Brad Ausmus in 2014. With defensive wizard Jose Iglesias returning from injury next season, and neither shortstop’s play screaming “KEEP ME!” Detroit could look for a better hitting infielder. Another middle infielder, Hernan Perez shows the potential to be a solid two-way player, but if he wasn’t ready to play full time in the big leagues, or if he was unable to unseat Romine or Suarez, he certainly won’t surpass Iglesias next season.

Dombrowski needs to give Ausmus more pop off the bench. Catcher is an area where this could be achieved. Bryan Holaday hit .231 this season and the team might seek an upgrade to backup Alex Avila.

Avila is in a different situation. The Tigers’ starting catcher, who suffered yet another concussion during the season ending loss to Baltimore, should be moved into a backup role, or at least a platoon. This would not only minimize the inexplicably severe beating the he takes and preserve his health, but also allow Detroit to find an offensive upgrade. Avila grades out as a good defensive backstop, but hasn’t been able to replicate his offensive output of 2011 when he drove in 82 runs, garnered MVP votes and earned Silver Slugger and All Star honors.

Acquiring a new catcher to partner with Avila would be prudent. The job may go to James McCann. The Tigers’ top catching prospect is a defensive-minded backstop who also hit .295 in AAA. He’s no Victor Martinez offensively, but the .295 line is an encouraging sign from a player thought to reach the Majors because of his defense.

If catching reinforcements are looked for externally, Russell Martin or Evan Gattis would be ideal fits. Martin, one of the best at his position in the game, grades out favorably defensively and provides pop (47 home runs over the last three years) and the ability to hit for average (he hit .290 this past season). Detroit may lose yet another first round draft pick if they sign Martin, but if the former Dodger is the missing piece in terms of winning the World Series, then there should be no hesitation.

Gattis’ calling card, meanwhile, is his bat. The Braves’ slugger hit 22 home runs in only 108 games for Atlanta. Pairing him with the comparatively defensively superior Avila would be perfect. While Gattis’ bat can provide extreme power, his defense isn’t anything special. Platooning him with Avila would make his defensive deficiencies less of a sore thumb. Plus, Gattis has shown that he can be productive without playing every day. This partnership would also save Avila some physical punishment behind the plate. Gattis won’t come cheap in terms of what the Tigers will have to give up to acquire him, but the second year player isn’t arbitration eligible until 2016 at the earliest and won’t hit free agency until 2019. He made a little over $520,000 last year. This is exactly the kind of player a team looking to save money like Detroit needs—an extremely productive hitter who can play a large role without costing much. He also has played in left field for Atlanta. He’s not Gold Glove worthy playing there, but he does have the experience. Something that would come in handy if Brad Ausmus needed to wedge in an extra bat in a must-win playoff game.

Lastly, the Tigers could, at the very least, use some depth in the outfield. Rajai Davis can get by defensively in center field, so an alignment of JD Martinez, Davis and Torii Hunter (if he returns) in the outfield wouldn’t be bad. In fact, it may win them the division again, but it probably won’t deliver a World Series. Signing an impact center fielder may be out of the question. Colby Rasmus is the most enticing option on the market, but the former Blue Jay may be more appealing, and better suited, to more of a rebuilding team like the Cubs or Astros than Detroit. Speaking of the Astros, Houston’s centerfielder, Dexter Fowler, would present a quality target. It may take a lot to pry him away from the Lone Star state, but the former Colorado player would mesh perfectly in Motown with his mix of speed and pop. Other potentially available center fielders such as Desmond Jennings, Denard Span or Peter Bourjos would all be attainable as well as being logical fits in the Tigers’ lineup.

Bringing in a new, starting caliber center fielder would be advantageous in numerous ways for Detroit. First, it would fix any issues defensively at the position. As much as Rajai Davis fits the profile of an old-school center fielder in terms of speed, he’s predominantly a corner outfielder. Having a center fielder who is more accustomed to playing the position defensively would provide an upgrade. Pushing Davis to the bench or into a role where he would potentially spell the aging Torii Hunter would greatly improve the pinch-hitting options. Throw in a healthy Andy Dirks, a couple of scrap-heap/waiver wire pickups and more polished versions of Stephen Moya and Tyler Collins and the Tigers all of a sudden have a plethora of outfielders who could contribute. Injuries and slumps are about as common as the changing of the seasons, so having too many options is a good problem to have.

The Tigers’ offense has long been deemed one of the best in baseball—maybe the best. But over that span the team hasn’t had the most fearsome bench. The bullpen will need some help too, but changing the bench could help make the difference in finally winning a World Series.

 

All stats courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.

Mapping the Tigers’ Off-Season Full

The baseball world was thrown into some disarray today. Jim Leyland stepped down. After decades in the game, according to Leyland, it was time to step down.

Dave Dombrowski and the Tigers will have their own check-list of items to accomplish this offseason. Here are some of them-

1.       Find a Good Fit to Lead the Team

With Leyland’s managerial days behind him, the team will need someone else to take the reins. The Tigers’ vacancy will automatically leapfrog the job opportunities in Cincinnati and Washington as the top gig on the market. After all, what manager wouldn’t want to take over a club who has made three straight LCS appearances as well as having arguably the best players at their positions (i.e. Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Miguel Cabrera, etc.)? The Tigers could go numerous ways here.

One would be to go the “Mike Matheny” route and hire someone with little- to-no managerial experience, but is familiar with the organization. Brad Ausmus would fit the bill. However, this may or may not fly. The team is a championship contender, and throwing a first time manager into the fire like that may not work. It worked for Matheny, but Walt Weiss, Robin Ventura and Mike Redmond’s respective career starts haven’t exactly gone swimmingly.

The second option would be the “John Farrell” route: hiring someone who is familiar with the team, and has previous experience. Gene Lamont would fit this bill, and Leyland will surely give his old friend his backing, but whether Dombrowski wants to go this route remains to be seen.

Finally, the last option is the “Terry Francona” route. The team would go with an experienced, proven winner as their manager, someone who knows how to win. Francona, Buck Showalter and Clint Hurdle are recent examples of this route that have worked out well. Dusty Baker, Charlie Manuel and Lou Piniella’s respective names have already been tossed around. However, all that being said, the Tigers can’t afford to have a Bobby Valentine hire. It would be disastrous.

2.        Free Agent Decisions

With numerous potential free agents, the Tigers will be faced with plenty of tough choices come decision time. Brayan Pena, Omar Infante, Ramon Santiago, Jhonny Peralta, Octavio Dotel, Jose Veras and Joaquin Benoit could all be out of contract. Resigning them or finding replacements will be important. Veras has a modest club option in his contract, meaning he will likely be back. Infante probably will be resigned if he doesn’t ask for too much money relative to his worth. Pena is another good bet to resign thanks to his strong offensive numbers filling in for Alex Avila behind the plate. Meanwhile, players like Santiago and Dotel could be phased out in favor of younger, cheaper options like Hernan Perez and Luke Putkonen. The trickiest cases could be Peralta and Benoit. Peralta has stated that he would be open to returning to the Tigers as an outfielder, and while his bat would be welcomed, I’m not sure how comfortable the Tigers would be with sticking him in left field from a defense standpoint. Benoit might be harder to predict still. The former Texas Ranger justified the three-year, 16.5 million dollar contract the Tigers gave him with another strong showing in his walk year. After taking over for reclamation project Jose Valverde, Benoit went on to convert 24 saves. Sadly, he will likely be remembered for his postseason shortcoming in Boston. Detroit would probably like a closer with more experience in the role. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Benoit return to the Motor City, however, it will likely be for less money than he previously got, and he probably won’t be closing.

3.       Upgrade in the Lineup and the Field

Even teams that win it all need to make changes and upgrade. You have to keep up with the Joneses.

With Infante in danger of walking in free agency, second base could be a potential hole, once again, for the Tigers. It may sound radical, but what about Brandon Phillips? Not only is he considered, and probably is, one of the best defensive players at his position, but he can also swing with the best. Phillips may be the most polished all-around second baseman in the game not named Dustin Pedroia.

He drove in 103 runs in a down year and reports out of Cincy are that the team is looking to trade him. If the Reds are bent on dealing him, and are willing to eat the majority of his salary to do so, the Tigers should engage in trade talks. As good as Infante is, Phillips would be a massive upgrade with the bat and in the field. All of a sudden the defensively challenged Tigers could possess the slickest fielding double play tandem in the league with Phillips and Iglesias up the middle.

Not only that, but he could help lengthen a lineup that is a smidgen top heavy. Hitting the former Indian sixth behind Victor Martinez would give the team a formidable lineup that would only get more formidable should they find a new left fielder.

As much as Jhonny Peralta wants to come back to Detroit, I’m not sure the team could stomach his defense in left. It’s unfair to ask Peralta to become a whiz in the outfield after learning the position for the first time in his life just a few weeks ago. That being said, he will have growing pains should he stay there. Growing pains the Tigers cannot afford.

Top hitting prospect Nick Castellanos could be ready for a full season of big league at bats next season, and all indications are that the former third baseman is going to be very good for a long time. They may hand the left field job to him outright, or bring him along in slowly in a platoon with Andy Dirks, or a low-buy free agent. Should the team go with the “bring along slowly, platoon” route, Grady Sizemore, Nate McClouth and Jason Kubel are all viable options in that regard.

If the team feels their top hitting prospect isn’t ready for the big time, the last option is signing someone similar to Torii Hunter, a veteran on a short contract who can still produce at a high level. Old friend Curtis Granderson might be too expensive, but if the money isn’t too obnoxious and the team doesn’t feel Castellanos is ready, the Grandy-Man could find himself in Detroit once again. It could be beneficial for Granderson as well. Not only would he get the chance to win, he would also improve his free agent stock for next season on a one-year contract if he doesn’t find a multi-year deal to his liking this offseason.

4.       Upgrade the Bullpen

Many will probably tell you the Tigers shortcoming in the ALCS was their bullpen. That and nagging injuries and slumps to Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, respectively. The Tigers don’t have a bad bullpen. Jose Veras, Drew Smyly, Benoit and Al Albuquerque are all quality options. The Tigers just need more depth and a true closer. Whether it is by trade or by free agency, the club needs a closer. Edward Mujica could be had in free agency should the Cardinals chose not to resign him. However, his general inexperience as a closer before this year could make the Tigers think twice. Another former Tiger who could interest the team is Fernando Rodney, who after struggling in Anaheim, has experienced a career renaissance in Tampa Bay. Other intriguing closer candidates that could be had are Steve Cishek, Huston Street and Joe Nathan.

Outside of closer, the Tigers need more quality arms in the ‘pen. Free agents such as Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier as well as low-buy, reclamation projects Joel Hanrahan and Francisco Rodriguez are fits.

It all starts at the top for the Tigers. They need to find a new manager before moving on to the rest of their offseason tasks. Here’s hoping they find the right fit.

Mapping the Tigers’ Off-Season Part Two Free Agent Decisions

With numerous potential free agents, the Tigers will be faced with plenty of tough choices come decision time. Brayan Pena, Omar Infante, Ramon Santiago, Jhonny Peralta, Octavio Dotel, Jose Veras and Joaquin Benoit could all be out of contract. Resigning them or finding replacements will be important. Veras has a modest club option in his contract, meaning he will likely be back. Infante probably will be resigned if he doesn’t ask for too much money relative to his worth. Pena is another good bet to resign thanks to his strong offensive numbers filling in for Alex Avila behind the plate. Meanwhile, players like Santiago and Dotel could be phased out in favor of younger, cheaper options like Hernan Perez and Luke Putkonen. The trickiest cases could be Peralta and Benoit. Peralta has stated that he would be open to returning to the Tigers as an outfielder, and while his bat would be welcomed, I’m not sure how comfortable the Tigers would be with sticking him in left field from a defense standpoint. Benoit might be harder to predict still. The former Texas Ranger justified the three-year, 16.5 million dollar contract the Tigers gave him with another strong showing in his walk year. After taking over for reclamation project Jose Valverde, Benoit went on to convert 24 saves. Sadly, he will likely be remembered for his postseason shortcoming in Boston. Detroit would probably like a closer with more experience in the role. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Benoit return to the Motor City, however, it will likely be for less money than he previously got, and he probably won’t be closing.

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.

MLB Trade Deadline Roundup

First off, Happy Birthday to my Aunt Joyce. Last year I promised that I would mention her birthday here, and because I’m a man of my word, I am. So, Happy Birthday Aunt Joyce!

Today is the baseball trade deadline. It’s one of the Holy Grails of sports. A day when the deals go by fast and furious and without a Vin Diesel reference. Oops.

Anyways, since the MLB Network has been so kind as to air a trade deadline special, I’ll just run through the trades in the order that they show them, use it as a framework almost. Continue reading