The Seattle Mariners have come off a season to forget, and with little action in the way of signings so far this offseason the natives (fan base) are getting restless.
Everyone has a theory on how we can make this team better. Some make a lot of sense, some are a little detached from reality.
Let's see if we can separate fact from fiction.
I just don't buy it.
He certainly appeared to lose a step in the outfield, but for all those who want to attribute his struggles at the plate just to his age I would direct your attention to the 66-point drop in BABIP he suffered last year.
If you look through his career, his BABIP matched up pretty well with his overall performance. When he got his share of "luck" his numbers were through the roof. When he got a little "unlucky" he was considered to have a "down" year. This is entirely reasonable, and holds true for most players.
So with last year being an "unlucky" year, Ichiro's slash line dropped to .272/.310/.335 with just five home runs and 47 RBI. To be fair, there weren't a whole lot of guys on base for him to drive in, so the RBI number is essentially meaningless.
What I do find interesting, however, are his power numbers.
For his career Ichiro has slugged .421. Last year his slugging percentage plummeted to .335, his lowest ever by over 50 points.
Here's a suggestion that nobody has brought up, but which seems an entirely feasible explanation for last year's performance. Confidence. Plain old garden variety confidence.
Think about it. More balls getting caught. More balls getting hit straight at fielders. The batting average drops, the questions start.
Bad luck = less confidence = more singles, less power.
More bad luck = more singles getting turned into outs.
Less confidence = noticeably worse fielding performance.
Ichiro has been thought of as a robot, immune to the emotional aspects of the game that affect other players, but perhaps he is human after all.
Think about this. Even with his career worst year, Ichiro had 76 more hits than anybody else on the team and stole three times as many bases as the second place finisher.
Will Ichiro bounce back next year? I have every confidence.
Jack Z has done an excellent job of restocking the farm system since it was decimated during the notorious Bavasi era. There are several pitchers with tremendous upside who have the fan base excited for the future. Unfortunately the future is not this April.
Let's run through them.
Last year's top draft selection was generally considered to be the most polished pitcher in the draft, and most of the talk was that Hultzen and Trevor Bauer were closest to being major league ready.
Zduriencik even went as far as to say "We'll give Danny a shot right off the bat to see if he can make the big league club or not." And while Hultzen will get his shot, let's not forget that he has not even pitched in the minors yet. With the added consideration of service time, Hultzen's best case scenario looks to be after the trade deadline.
It was pretty hard not to be impressed by the 96mph fastball that Paxton jammed into Bryce Harper in the Futures Game. It's hard not to be impressed by the numbers he put up after being promoted to Double-A Jackson.
But the fact remains that he's had just seven starts out of low-A ball.
Paxton was a terrific pickup for the Mariners in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, but don't expect to see him blowing hitters away this year, unless he gets a short cup of coffee when the rosters expand.
Last summer's 43rd overall pick could end up being the best of the bunch. Featuring a hard, blistering fastball and some developing secondary pitches, Walker has got many in the Mariners organisation buzzing. Walker though is just 19, and while his stuff may warrant some fast tracking, he's still not likely to be in the mix until 2015.
The 21-year-old Nicaraguan got some attention, and some Cliff Lee comparisons, as he went through the minors. A 91mph fastball with excellent control, coupled with the fact that he doesn't walk hitters saw him leapfrog High Desert in 2011. He saw some time in Tacoma, but got hit pretty hard and starting issuing some walks. The potential is still there, but another year in the minors should allow him to work out the kinks.
Here's the deal..
You're Scott Boras. You have one of the game's premier sluggers, and you're trying to land him a monster contract. No problem right? Just call the Yankees, Red Sox and Angels and have them bid against each other!
What's that? Mark Teixeira, Adrian Gonzalez and Albert Pujols? You must be kidding me.
OK, who else is there?
If you can't instigate a bidding war, then how do you get the teams who are interested to go close to the Pujols type contract that you're seeking?
Of course, leak a rumor that Fielder doesn't want to play on the West Coast! Let the Mariners know that if they want to change his mind they're going to have to pony up with the big dollars.
This ridiculous rumour has Boras spin written all over it. So Fielder has a house in Miami? I'm pretty sure he be able to afford another one once he signs.
Rest assured, if the money is right, Boras will be telling his client, "Go West young man!"
This is the rumor that just won't die (thanks Ken Rosenthal).
While the Mariners will not be in contention this year, the rapid improvement of many of Seattle's youngsters lends itself to the possibility of fielding a competitive team in 2013 and beyond. In a period that we are not winning, it's important to have signs of hope at least, and the best pitcher in baseball certainly ticks that box..
What's more, if we get to the end of 2013 and there is no improvement in sight, the Ms could deal Hernandez and get pretty close to the same haul they'd get today. A year of Hernandez to a contending team would still bring a huge return, so there's no need to pull the trigger just yet. The Yankees, Red Sox and Cubs would be falling over each other to get the King's signature, and each of them would look to lock him up to an extention, so the amount of team control he comes with is not so important.
If however we are in the thick of a pennant race around that time then Hernandez's value becomes immeasurable.
Trading him now would be a signal to the fan base that ownership has given up any hope of contending during the tenure of his contract. Keeping him around while the rebuild continues is the smartest way for the organization to hedge their bets.
Jamie Moyer's name was thrown about earlier this offseason when the only certainties in the Mariners' rotation were Hernandez, Michael Pineda and Jason Vargas. It made sense from a lot of standpoints—Smart veteran pitcher, low cost, loved in Seattle.
It was thought that Blake Beavan, Charlie Furbush and perhaps Tom Wilhelmsen would fight it out for one spot, with two of them returning to the bullpen. This left an open rotation spot that would best be filled by a veteran starter. The Mariners have had talks with Moyer, Jeff Francis and Kevin Millwood with a view to filling the final spot.
As we speak though, the Ms brass appear close to a deal with Hisashi Iwakuma. This virtually eliminates Francis and Millwood, as they would both be seeking major league deals. Moyer could still be on the radar, but he would have to accept a minor league deal because the team would not open a roster spot for him at this stage of his career.
So is this myth dead? Not yet. There's actually a decent chance that Moyer would come back on a minor league deal. At age 49, he's not in it for the money anymore (he's earned $82 million in his career)—he just wants to keep pitching. He's rehabbing after Tommy john surgery as we speak, fully expecting to pitch (for someone) in spring training.
This would be a low risk, feelgood story for the Mariners and I for one hope they go ahead and do it.
This one is a real possibility.
Kyle Seager and Alex Liddi both need playing time to see if they have what it takes to stick at this level, and Chone Figgins has been beyond awful since he stepped foot in Seattle.
The Mariners might look to do a bad contract swap (Barry Zito?), but if not look for Figgins to get about two months playing time to prove himself. If he stays as bad as he's been the M's will eat what's left of his salary, clear a roster spot and send him on his way.
I'm actually hoping that doesn't happen.
If Figgins was able to get himself sorted out and back to his old form he would be invaluable to this team. It seems like an eternity, but it was just two years ago that he was coming off the back of an All-Star season where he hit .298, drew 101 walks, stole 42 bases, and had on OBP of .395.
We can all live with the hope that Figgins will bounce back this year, as that would be the best case scenario for all concernedbut make no mistake, he's on a very short leash.