King Felix’s Mariners Deal Will Get Done Because It Has To Get Done

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The dual-sided coin of big signings leaked to the media before they’re “officially” official is landing incoveniently for both the Mariners and Felix Hernandez now that there’s a sudden snag in the finalization of his $175 million contract extension with the club. Did he fail the physical? According to this Geoff Baker piece, that’s what it sounds like. But we won’t know until we know even though, technically, it’s not our business. More information will be whispered to various media people by unnamed sources and it will, of course, wind up in front of the fans’ prying eyes.

This puts the sides in an equally unfavorable position. The Mariners were basking in the glow of the positive aspect of keeping their franchise arm through the 2019 season. Hernandez was becoming the highest paid pitcher in baseball and wouldn’t have to worry about being traded or heading into free agency.

The Mariners were presumably worn out from having to answer the phone with, “Hello? Seattle Mariners. Felix Hernandez is not available, how may I direct your call?”

GM Jack Zduriencik’s typical conversations must have gone the same way, fending off Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman’s advances as he tried to cajole, beg, demand and whine Hernandez away from the Mariners. Given his history with the Cliff Lee switcheroo and pawning Michael Pineda off on the Yankees, if Hernandez were truly suffering from a potential elbow problem, Zduriencik would’ve traded him to the Yankees long ago. The Yankees would’ve taken him, signed him and it would’ve been their problem for the future.

Now it’s the Mariners’ risk. They’ll have to live with it.

Buster Olney writes that there is “concern” about his pitching elbow. Of course his workload and the number of innings he’s pitched were referenced with context in the above-linked ESPN piece. Its relevance is cherrypicking considering clubs like the Nationals have taken great pains to limit the number of innings for their young pitchers such as Stephen Strasburg only to see them blow out their elbows anyway. Why point to Hernandez’s workload with the unsaid implication that it’s eventually going to be a problem with long-term durability when there have been pitchers who’ve gotten hurt with lighter touches and others who haven’t despite being “abused?”

This highlights the gray area of giving a player a massive contract and the new practice of making sure the player isn’t signing it with a foreseeable injury already in place and ticking like a time bomb. We saw it earlier this winter with the Red Sox and Mike Napoli as a $39 million deal over three years became a $5 million base salary with $8 million in incentives for one year because of a hip problem. In fact, the Red Sox were something of a pioneer in this practice. Whereas other clubs were signing players without worrying about the future and getting torched for it as the Mets did with Pedro Martinez, the Red Sox made it their life’s work to install protective language in the event of injury. They did it with John Lackey and Napoli. It’s a sound business practice even if it’s going to upset the fans and put players in a situation where they have to shop their services elsewhere. Just as easily as it gets out into the public that a deal is “done,” it can also hinder a player if he tries to go somewhere else if an injury is found and disclosed before he signs.

Deals of this kind would be better for all parties if they weren’t leaked to the media prior to official completion, but every reporter worth anything has his sources in management and with player agents. It benefits the club and the player to have the information out to prevent cold feet, second thoughts or a better offer from someone else. It benefits them, that is, until something unexpected like this happens.

This is bad on multi-levels for each side and why the Mariners will eventually sign Hernandez. The Mariners had their one star locked up and are trying to give their increasingly irritable fanbase a reason to think that brighter days lie ahead.

Now that’s on hold.

With this news, Hernandez’s trade value is slashed significantly. The Mariners would get a big package for him if they chose to deal him now since he’s signed through 2014 and, as far as we know, is healthy enough to pitch in the short-term. It’s nowhere near what they’d get if the trading team thought they were getting him and keeping him for the long-term.

For Hernandez, it’s become public knowledge that there’s something going on in his elbow. If this contract fell through, Hernandez might tell the Mariners to trade him; he might start becoming concerned about what this news is going to do to his value if he winds up on the free agent market, and rightfully so. How would it look for a team to have warning two years in advance that there’s something off in the elbow, then signs him for $150+ million and having him get injured? They’re not getting full insurance on the contract with this out there until he’s been checked and given a clean bill of health from multiple doctors.

The leaks made for a few days of big headlines, but boomeranged on both Hernandez and the Mariners. What was a happy marriage is a shotgun wedding. The deal will get done because now it has to get done.

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General Manager is Not a Baseball Job, it’s a Political Office

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Fans of the Mariners should be very afraid if this story from Jon Paul Morosi is true.

Truth is, of course, relative. Mariners’ GM Jack Zduriencik might be following orders from ownership that Ichiro Suzuki is staying with the club no matter what; it might be that he’s saying things he knows aren’t true to keep the media sharks from following him and Ichiro around to ask what’s going to happen; or he could actually plan to keep a declining and old player as a centerpiece of his club on the field and in the lineup. In any case, it’s frightening and piggybacks on the Geoff Baker story from last week that said the Mariners have no intention of contending before 2015.

It’s stunning how the stat people who held Zduriencik as a totem for their beliefs abandoned him. No longer is he referred to as a “truly Amazin’ exec” who worked his way up through baseball in scouting and has embraced advanced stats to build his team. There’s no hope if they intend to move forward with Ichiro. Period.

All of this highlights the difficulty in being a GM in today’s game. Gone are the days when the name of the GM was only known because George Steinbrenner had just fired him. Do you know, without looking, who the GM of the Earl Weaver Orioles was? Or the “We Are Family” Pirates? Or the Red Sox in the 1970s?

No, you don’t. But if you don’t know the names of the GMs in today’s game then you’re not a real fan. It’s not a job anymore, it’s a political office. Not everyone is cut out to be a politician and by now Zduriencik is like a hamster running on a treadmill in some rich guy’s office. If it’s true that he believes Ichiro is still a “franchise player” then he should be fired.

If it’s true that upper management is telling him that Ichiro stays no matter what, he needs to say enough already with the interference and that he must be allowed to run the team correctly if he’s going to stay in the job.

Let’s say that he’s trying to take pressure off of Ichiro and the organization. If that’s the case, then he needs to learn to say the words, “We’ll address that at the end of the season but we have great respect for what Ichiro has accomplished here.”

Now if they do anything with Ichiro other than bring him back, Zduriencik’s inability to effectively play the game of lying without lying is even more reason why he shouldn’t be a GM.

There are the typical GMs and ex-GMs who are treated as idiots by outsiders who haven’t the faintest idea of how difficult a job it truly is. Dayton Moore is great at building farm systems but has proven wanting in making trades and signing free agents. Jon Daniels isn’t that far away from being considered an idiot after trading Adrian Gonzalez for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka. Ken Williams—who’s won a World Series—had to endure all sorts of absurd criticisms for his management style last winter and now has a team in first place. And like a professional wrestler whose ring persona alternates from “heel” to “face” depending on what the company needs and which feud would bring in the most pay-per-view purchases, Billy Beane has the Moneyball “genius” rhetoric attached to him again because some of the young players he acquired last winter are playing well and manager Bob Melvin has the Athletics performing five miles over their heads.

Again, in spite of the Moneyball strategy no longer existing in the form in which it was presented, Beane is serving as validation for numbers above all else, reality be damned.

Which is it? Are they geniuses? Are they idiots? Are they politicians? Are they people trying to do a job that’s become impossible to do without angering someone?

Do you know?

What makes it worse is the “someones” they’re angering are either using them for personal interests or don’t have the first clue as to what they’re talking about.

If Jeff Luhnow thought he’d be safe from their wrath—unleashed behind the safety and anonymity of computer screens—he learned pretty quickly that he wasn’t. The idea of, “they believe what I believe” didn’t protect him from the poisonous barbs and accusations of betrayal from the everyday readers of Fangraphs when he chose to make Brett Myers his closer. Even the paper thin-skinned armchairiest of armchair experts, Keith Law, to whom Luhnow supposedly offered a job (although I don’t really believe he did) went after his would-be boss questioning the decision.

It’s easy to criticize when not responsible for the organization; when there’s no accountability and one has the option of never admitting they’re wrong about anything as a means to bolster credibility. This, in reality, does nothing other than display one’s weaknesses and lack of confidence. It’s no badge of honor to never make a mistake.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to be the “I’d do” guy. I’d do this. I’d do that. But would they “do” what they say they’d do? Or would they want to quit after one day? After one negative column from a former friend? After understanding that being a GM isn’t about making trades, signing players and being a hero, but about drudgery and having to use ambiguous phrasing to keep from saying anything at all?

Do you think a GM or an inside baseball person wants to hear criticisms from the likes of Joe Sheehan? From Law? From Joel Sherman? Could these media experts handle the job and the savagery to which a GM in today’s game is subjected every…single…day? They’d curl into the fetal position and cry.

I’d never, ever last more than a week as a GM because: A) I don’t have the patience to answer ridiculous and repetitive questions from reporters; B) I can’t play the game of giving nuggets that I know are lies or exaggerations to media outlets and bloggers in order to maintain a solid relationship with them and exchange splashy headlines for the stuff I want out there for my own benefit; and C) I’m incapable of placating an owner or boss to the degree where I lose credibility.

Whichever one Zduriencik is doing is grounds for a change.

There comes a time when enough’s enough and this Ichiro nonsense, to me, is it.

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American League West—Buy, Sell or Stand Pat?

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We can tick Edwin Encarnacion off the board of potentially available players as the Blue Jays signed him to a 3-year, $29 million extension. I’ll discuss that in an upcoming post. Now let’s have a look at the AL West and which teams should buy, sell or stand pat and what they should be looking for.

Texas Rangers

They’re heavy buyers.

I’m not discussing any Cole Hamels rumors from now on. He’s going to be the hot topic and used as an easy “news” story designed to garner webhits. But the Rangers are absolutely going to pursue him and will make the decisive move to get a starting pitcher from somewhere. Roy Oswalt’s had two bad starts and two good starts; Neftali Feliz is on the 60-day disabled list. It’s no wonder they’re pursuing Hamels, Zack Greinke and will undoubtedly be in on Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza and anyone else who’s available or not available like Felix Hernandez.

The Rangers will get a starting pitcher.

They’ll also try to bolster their bullpen with an extra arm or two like Grant Balfour, Jose Mijares or Joe Thatcher.

Los Angeles Angels

Talk of another starting pitcher, on the surface, sounds like overkill. But it was put logically recently (I’m not sure where I read it) that since Dan Haren and Ervin Santana have club options at the end of the season and neither have pitched very well, they’ll have the money free to go after Hamels or Greinke. The Angels like pitching.

If I had to guess now what they’re going to do at the end of the season, they’ll decline Santana’s option and exercise Haren’s if he’s healthy.

Since they’re 8th in the American League in runs scored, the on-the-surface suggestion would be that they’ll need a bat. But the early season horrible hitting cost coach Mickey Hatcher his job and they began to score once Mike Trout was recalled and Vernon Wells got hurt. The Wells situation will have to be resolved when he returns from the disabled list. I would think the last and possibly only resort is to eat the $42+ million remaining on his contract and dump him.

They could use a lefty specialist like Mijares or Thatcher and if the Brewers make Francisco Rodriguez available, a reunion with his former team would be a positive for both sides.

Oakland Athletics

Who would’ve thought the A’s could legitimately consider being buyers at mid-season? Certainly not me. Credit goes to Billy Beane for getting solid youngsters from the Diamondbacks and Nationals in off-season trades. Yoenis Cespedes is another matter since he’s supremely talented and injury-prone.

They’re not going to buy and they’re not going to clear the decks of everything from the roster to the light fixtures to the sinks.

Balfour will be in demand; perhaps they can get a couple of minor leaguers for a team that needs a back-end starter in Bartolo Colon (how about the Mets?). I’d probably find a taker for Daric Barton. It’s not going to happen for him with the A’s and he does have some attributes.

Seattle Mariners

According to Geoff Baker in The Seattle Times, “…the Mariners do not appear to be gearing any efforts towards contention before 2015.”

Jeez.

Baker’s column was in reference to the suggestion that they pursue Justin Upton, but if they have no intention of contending until 2015 they not only shouldn’t buy, but they should look to trade Hernandez. What good is going to do them if they’re not going to contend for another two years?

Whether it’s ownership interfering with GM Jack Zduriencik or not, it can’t be ignored that the Mariners’ offense is historically awful with four regular players batting .203 or below and all four—Brendan Ryan, Miguel Olivo, Justin Smoak and Chone Figgins—were brought in by Zduriencik.

2015? The Mariners have a loyal fanbase, money to spend, a horse at the top of the rotation and young pitching on the way.

If this is true, then they should sell any player making significant money and that includes King Felix. As it is, they’ll look to move Brandon League and listen on Jason Vargas. Anyone want Figgins? I thought not.

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Let Zduriencik Run The Mariners And Get Rid Of Ichiro

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I’ve been a critic of Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik.

Actually, I’ve been more of a voice of reason about him.

While he was continually being referred to as a “genius”, I tried to provide pause to that silly appellation. He’s not a genius; he’s not a moron. He’s a baseball GM who’s made some good moves (drafting Dustin Ackley); some bad moves (Chone Figgins); some morally repugnant decisions (Josh Lueke; firing/blaming Don Wakamatsu); some of questionable tactics (the sleight-of-hand machinations in trading Cliff Lee); and some that made sense but didn’t work (Milton Bradley).

But in this Geoff Baker piece concerning the future of Ichiro Suzuki, it’s clear that Zduriencik has to at least try to set a boundary as to what’s good for the organization on the field.

As Baker points out, the idea that Ichiro should be placed in the same category as Derek Jeter was with the Yankees is nonsense. But I’d go a step further than Baker—the Mariners not only shouldn’t extend Ichiro, but they should see if they can trade him this winter.

Never mind the difficulty in finding a taker for Ichiro and his contract ($17 million for 2012) and that the player is probably not going to accept a trade anywhere; they should try because he’s pretty much used up his value to them on the field and needs to go for the good of Ichiro and the Mariners.

Could Ichiro be convinced that he would have a better chance of winning if he went to another team? Who knows? I’d say no, but if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

The question that has to be presented to the meddlers in ownership is this: do you want to have a winning team or do you want to continue on with the Ichiro charade as if he’s an institution along the lines of Jeter?

Ichiro is useless to the Mariners as they’re currently constructed; signing him to an extension beyond 2012 would be a disaster even if he rebounds next season to something close to what he’s been in past years. The days of him being a focal point for the offense (and defense) are over; the team has had him and been bad for six of the past eight years; they’re not going to get better with him, so they should move on without him.

The Mariners have dispatched “icons” like Ken Griffey, Jr; Randy Johnson and Alex Rodriguez and were better because of it. Why can’t they do the same with Ichiro?

There are trades that could possibly be completed to get rid of Ichiro.

Would they take Carlos Zambrano from the Cubs? Putting Zambrano in a rotation with his countryman Felix Hernandez and getting him out of Chicago, along with the promise of free agency after next season could yield a strong year from Zambrano. I know they’ve been down this road with the Cubs when they got Bradley, but the salaries of Ichiro and Zambrano are nearly a wash.

I doubt Ichiro could ever be convinced to accept a trade to the Cubs.

To the Red Sox for John Lackey? Lackey has over $46 million coming to him including a bonus if he’s traded, so the Mariners would have to take on a significant amount of cash; but the Lackey-Boston marriage is a failure; moving him to a pitcher-friendly ballpark in Seattle and back to the AL West could return him to his Angels form.

Ichiro might be convinced that Boston is a good place for him to play and his game—defense, singles and speed—would be useful for the Red Sox because they, unlike the Mariners, have people to drive Ichiro in. The change of scenery might wake his bat from the stagnation that he’s experiencing with the woeful and rebuilding Mariners.

The Mets for Jason Bay? Again, they’re taking on money, but Bay’s only guaranteed $32 million through 2013. Bay has a full no-trade clause, but my guess is he’d waive it to get out of New York; would Ichiro be willing to accept a trade to the Mets?

The bottom line is this: it’s time for both sides to part and ownership is making Zduriencik’s life difficult—almost impossible—to turn things around with Ichiro on the team.

Judging from Baker’s article though, they’re going to again force Zduriencik to do something that’s not going to do anyone in Seattle any good at all. And it’s a terrible idea.

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If It’s Believed, It’s Real—Thoughts On Roy Halladay, Ubaldo Jimenez And Others

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Weakness, real or perceived?

Roy Halladay had to leave his start yesterday against the Cubs because of the inhuman heat in Chicago.

The heat wave had raised temperatures on the field to 108 degrees; Halladay felt dizzy and was pulled after allowing 3 runs on 7 hits. He took the loss.

While this is a fully understandable circumstance, Halladay has always put forth the image of impervious to the elements; to pain; to mental fatigue.

Will this give the hitters a minute amount of confidence that they didn’t have before? That Halladay is human?

Don’t discount perception being a factor in performance. If Halladay’s reputation as an indestructible force was reduced a tiny bit, it could affect the opposition’s approach and results.

And you can’t find that on a stat sheet—“advanced” or not.

Analysis(?)

In reference to the Rockies listening to offers for Ubaldo Jimenez, Jack Curry of the YES Network said the following on Twitter:

By even publicly seeking offers on Jimenez, the Rockies have devalued him. Why would Rox want to trade 27 yr old with manageable contract?

This is ignorant foolishness the type you get from a reporter who either doesn’t know what he’s talking about or says something without thinking it through.

We see that quite often on Twitter and other social sites.

If you look at some of the “experts” and columnists employed by the likes of YES, ESPN, CBS and WFAN, you see a profound lack of writing skill coupled with an inexplicable absence of analytical knowledge of sports and people.

But that’s the problem of the networks. They hired them, they have to deal with them.

I’d love to hear Curry’s explanation for this blanket statement.

The Rockies didn’t start calling around and saying, “Ubaldo Jimenez—make an offer.” Teams are calling GM Dan O’Dowd and he’s listening. Considering the request for the entire Yankees farm system to get the pitcher, they’re not specifically motivated to trade him. Apart for Curry’s skewed logic, how has Jimenez been devalued? They’re not desperately trying to trade him and the asking price is exorbitant.

So what’s Curry’s point? That if the Rockies play hard-to-get they’ll somehow be justified in taking phone calls and considering all their options?

It’s a groundless statement with no legs to support it.

This is on a level with Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times providing his resume to bolster his self-involved brilliance or Buzz Bissinger going on an expletive-laden rant against bloggers.

Based on what?

Just like the mainstream writers/broadcasters/editors, there are plenty of bloggers whose writing is atrocious and their assertions asinine. There are others who put work into what they do and provide value.

It goes both ways.

You can put me in either category. I couldn’t care less.

Simply being employed by a popular entity doesn’t automatically accord credibility. And we’re learning this fact with each word we read; each tweet we see; each uttered bit of nonsense.

And it’s not going to stop.

Madness.

Roy Halladay is human.

ESPN used the words “dominant start” and “Rodrigo Lopez” in the same sentence.

The Pirates are in first place in July.

Mike Francesa chose to come to work yesterday with a peach tan while wearing an orange shirt so he looked like the ING bouncing ball—knowing he’d be on TV.

The world is definitely ending.

Or it’s beginning.

One of those.

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