Dave Dombrowski has a long history as a major league GM, and it’s hard to argue with his results. Getting his start in 1988 with the Montrel Expos, he oversaw three consecutive .500 or better seasons before leaving with a 64-81 record midway through the 1991 season. His record wasn’t as stellar after becoming the Marlins GM in 1992 (.451 winning percentage in 9 seasons), though he did bring a World Series championship to Florida in 1997.
Dombrowski really hit his stride and achieved his reputation as an elite GM while at the helm of the Tigers from 2002-2015. Dombrowski stepped in to take over a 66-96 Tigers team that looked absolutely hopeless, and began a full, painful rebuild with an absolutely atrocious 55-100 record in 2002. Somehow, they were even worse in 2003, finishing 43-119. The team improved slightly over the next two seasons, winning 72 and 71 games in 2004 and 2005, before becoming the perennial contender we’ve known them as for the last decade with a 95-67 season in 2006 which saw the Tigers lose the World Series to the 83-win St. Louis Cardinals.
From 2006-2014, the Tigers averaged 88 wins, went to the playoffs five times, and appeared in two World Series. Dombrowski’s teams were built mostly through solid trades and savvy veteran signings, but one aspect of his team building was severely lacking: his ability to draft and develop talent from within. Let’s take a look at his draft record as the Tigers GM:
After all, this guy drafted Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks, J.J. Hardy, Prince Fielder, Yovanni Gallardo, and Ryan Braun, which, while still impressive, looked like a much more impressive list when he was hired. It seemed like Zduriencik could be the guy to help restock the farm and make smart, numbers-aided decisions with major league free agents and trades.
Seven years later, Baseball America ranks the Mariners’ farm system 25th, ESPN’s Keith Law ranked them 21st, Baseball Prospectus at 23rd, and John Sickels ranks just two Mariners prospects in his mid-season top 75. The major league roster has the 10th-highest average age in the league, so it can’t be said that the reason the farm system is weak is only because of graduating young talent to the major league roster.
Speaking of which, the major league team has finished with just two winning seasons in Zduriencik’s time as general manager–2009, and 2014. Despite yesterday’s exciting extra-inning victory, it will take a 1995-esque miracle for the 2015 Mariners to make the playoffs. It will take an insane stretch of scorching-hot baseball to even get to .500 by the end of the season. Here we are again: a team with a bottom-third farm system, and one of the older major league rosters in the game.
In seven years, the Mariners have been able to rise out of the bottom-five organizations up higher in the bottom-ten, so it’s not like there hasn’t been progress. Outside of Felix, (who was in the organization before Bavasi,) the best home-grown player Bill Bavasi left to Zduriencik was probably Michael Saunders. Zduriencik will be leaving his successor with Kyle Seager, Brad Miller, Taijuan Walker, and James Paxton. Zduriencik hasn’t been great, but he is definitely leaving the organization in better shape than he found it, if only incrementally.
So how did we get here? I want to take a look very briefly (and by that I mean you’re going be here for awhile) at medium-to-high profile transactions. Part of Zduriencik’s failure, in my estimation, is not just making mistakes on large moves, but the quantity of negative mid-tier moves. Let’s see if that’s the case. You may disagree with my evaluations of each move, but hey, you write it if you want it to be something you agree with 100%. Here we go:
Does the Mark Trumbo trade change what I said in yesterday’s open letter to Lloyd McClendon?
Mark Trumbo does add some impact power, even if he doesn’t add much needed ability to get on base. Ideally, Dustin Ackley’s days as a regular are numbered if not gone, and Trumbo should be the LF… but chances are they stick with Ackley for now.
If they do stick with Ackley, finding a spot for Trumbo in the lineup becomes a complication. You can’t platoon him with all of Ackley, Seth Smith and Logan Morrison, so if you see him as a platoon partner he won’t see action in more than 30% of games that way. You really have to use him as a time-share and rest-day guy with Ackley and others to give him substantial plate appearances.
Defensively, Trumbo isn’t great as a corner outfielder, but he’s not the liability that Nelson Cruz is. He’s a wash compared to Ackley, who is still a bit raw as an outfielder. He’s definitely an upgrade over Cruz, and might be a bit better in the field than Seth Smith. If having Trumbo on the team keeps Lloyd from playing Nelson Cruz in RF, then terrific. That in itself is an upgrade, even if Trumbo still runs a .300 OBP.
No, Trumbo won’t get on base a ton. Yes, he’ll probably hit a lot of bombs. Yes, there will be maddening stretches where he doesn’t do much of anything, and then suddenly he’ll blast off with several big hits for a week or so. Having had the guy on fantasy teams for a few seasons, I can tell you Trumbo is very streaky.
The Mariners have the advantage that if Trumbo does go super cold, they can stash him in a platoon and only use him against LHPs if needed. For now, the M’s still have Ackley, Seth Smith and others, which means Trumbo is more depth than a catalyst.
As for Vidal Nuno, I realize most people in and out of baseball don’t think too highly of him. But over his career I’ve seen a capable strike throwing starter that isn’t terribly prone to embarassing stretches of poor outings. Nuno has been a victim of depth more than anything, as both the Yankees and Diamondbacks had enough rotation depth to render him expendable.
Yes, Vidal was homer prone last season, but remember that his career’s been spent playing home games in hitter friendly bandboxes (Yankee Stadium and Chase Field). Plus, both the AL East and NL West expose him regularly to powerful lineups and hitter friendly road parks (pretty much every park in the AL East, and Coors Field in the NL West). This will change now that he moves to Safeco Field and the AL West, whose only really hitter park is the Rangers’ home park in Arlington. Plus, Nuno’s HR rate is way down this year as a reliever, and he’s only in his 3rd big league season. Young mistakes that led to Vidal’s long balls may be decreasing.
Vidal Nuno doesn’t walk too many guys, does show okay K rates as a starter, and has shown he can probably be a terrific all purpose lefty reliever a la Charlie Furbush. He might be the big piece in this trade for the M’s, though Trumbo will get more attention. The M’s hopefully will get healthy and stay healthy in the rotation, making Nuno a reliable fill-in for now. But chances are he will become a dependable, versatile, solid upgrade to J.A. Happ if and when Happ finally goes away. All due respect to younger Dominic Leone, but Nuno is probably an upgrade.
As for the guys lost:
Dominic Leone: I know young hard throwing relievers are considered dime a dozen, and by all accounts Leone had yet to put it all together. Despite this, people already suspect Leone is a closer candidate in the DBacks troubled bullpen (the DBacks closer role is currently held by submariner Brad Ziegler, in place of struggling Addison Reed). It may not happen soon, but I would not be surprised if Leone got a shot to close for Arizona at some point this season.
I feel like Gaby Guerrero is this decade’s version of Carlos Triunfel, another massively overhyped young international Mariners prospect who in time will probably never be more than a guy who hits like Alberto Callaspo. Like Triunfel, his results indicate he is at best a long term work in progress, and the Mariners might not be too far out of line to have decided that dealing with the hype of Vlad’s nephew should now be some other team’s problem.
Welington Castillo was acquired to be a better hitting backup catcher to Mike Zunino. Castillo hasn’t hit. So jettisoning him to bring back the punchless but excellent-framing catcher Jesus Sucre probably isn’t a bad decision. Castillo was a flier and the flier didn’t pan out. At least he provided some return value in departure by helping bring in Trumbo and Nuno.
Jack Reinheimer reminds me of Marcus Littlewood (before he converted to catcher). Orgs are full of these young slick fielding punchless shortstops who might be Rafael Furcal someday. He does have good footspeed, but he’s a long way from ever putting that to use at the MLB level.
The Mariners lost three spare parts and a hype-over-product prospect in return for a flawed but productive power hitter and a useful swingman who probably could start in a rotation. I’m sure they’ve made crappier trades.
Nice meltdown on those stupid umpires last night. I think that’s the sort of leadership statement guys and fans want to see from their skipper. Lou Piniella aside, you are probably my favorite Mariners manager to date, and it appears the guys in that clubhouse like and respect you as well.
Too bad your outburst didn’t help them score enough runs to avoid extras after Fernando Rodney’s 9th inning meltdown, or the subsequent three run killshot by Garrett Jones to seal the team’s 28th loss of the season in 52 games. But there’s only so much you can do about that.
Speaking of which, there’s one big problem, aside from the team now being 24-28 and on the precipice of turning a potentially great season into a massively disappointing and underachieving one. The problem is that you’re making some harmful personnel decisions, which while they might seem like the best decisions for your players and the clubhouse is actually killing the team’s competitive potential.
Sure, the bullpen throwing suck pitches and the lineup as a whole not consistently getting on base is the larger problem, but there are several little things you’re doing that are undercutting your team’s chances of victory on a game to game basis.
1. Stop playing Nelson Cruz in right field.
Thanks for DH’ing him today. That’s what he should be doing 80-90% of the time. Nelson should only play the field now and then to give someone else a rest. The Mariners signed him to be the Designated Hitter… not the Right Fielder.
I realize Nelson is a veteran who wants to play the field, like a lot of designated hitters. But like a lot of designated hitters, Nelson Cruz is considered a designated hitter because he is a relatively terrible fielder. Now, he has the skills to field the position, but he is so slow relative to other fielders that he is costing your team runs by allowing base hits on flyballs that most fielders would catch for outs. Don’t let your eyes fool you. Yes, he can field his position.
But a lot of hitters can look great swinging the bat while hitting .180 with no power and striking out too many times. Fielding impressions can be just as deceptive. The numbers show that Nelson’s already cost your team about 7 runs in the field, and may cost them about 25-30 if you continue playing him there. That’s going to make a huge difference, especially when 20-30 runs can be the difference between contention, .500 baseball, and another losing season.
Play Nelson Cruz where he helps the team best. DH him, and let better fielders play the outfield. The better defense will help your pitching staff, from Felix all the way to your struggling bullpen.
2. Show some trust in Chris Taylor and Justin Ruggiano.
Justin Ruggiano kills left handed pitching. Not only should he be playing every single time your opponent starts a lefthanded pitcher, he is also not all that bad against right handed pitching. Sure, in 38 scattered plate appearances against RHPs this year he hasn’t done shit… but last year in 160 PAs vs RHPs he hit 268/340/380. Before you say that’s not that great… it’s way better than your team as a whole has done against RHPs (228/293/381 entering today… and most of that .381 slugging is Nelson Cruz’s Boomstick pushing a 60 home run pace).
Get him a few more starts, and he might actually be one of your better hitters. Your team is in a massive offensive slump. He might actually be part of the solution to get you out of it.
Spot Ruggiano a couple of starts vs RHBs each week to rest other guys, and stop pinch hitting for him. His versatility allows him to slide over to other OF spots, which makes the defense better once you’ve pinch hit or pinch run for somebody and have to fit that person onto the field.
I realize Jack Z just sent Chris Taylor down. He didn’t hit during his whopping 68 plate appearances. If you’re not going to choose to play him regularly, this is the correct decision. Better for him to play everyday in Tacoma than to rot on the bench up here.
But really, Chris Taylor belongs on this roster, and should be playing more than half the team’s games. If you lack faith in Chris Taylor’s ability to hit in big league pressure situations, he’s not going to develop that ability by never getting to hit in those situations. And no, hitting with runners in scoring position in Tacoma (against AAA pitching that makes Hector Noesi look like Felix) doesn’t count. Not even close.
You’ve got to give Chris Taylor a chance to succeed or fail in those spots, if for no other reason than the guys you’re pinch hitting for him in those spots clearly aren’t doing all that much better. Speaking of one of those guys….
3. Willie Bloomquist is a defensive sub and rest-game fill in, not a platoon sub or a pinch hitter.
Willie has always been a useful utility player who can play okay defense at every non-battery position on the diamond, and can hold his own at the plate while taking some walks. His bat has no power, and can be easily exposed over extended playing time or in pressure situations.
At 37, he might be done as a useful hitter. Even last year he was walking far less, and walks combined with a fair share of bloop singles were the only value he provided as a hitter. Take away the walks, and now you’ve got an easily beatable hitter. Sure enough, over an admittedly limited span, he’s hitting 163/180/184 with no walks and one double.
Willie is a lot like Miguel Cairo, a punchless hitter who can fill in around the diamond as needed, usually defensively rather than for his bat.
In short: YOU SHOULD NOT EVER PINCH HIT WILLIE BLOOMQUIST FOR ANYBODY. He is not a better hitter than any of the other guys on this roster, even the younger ones. As mentioned above, the more positive decision is to give the younger hitter a chance in that pressure spot. He might surprise you! Willie almost certainly won’t.
3a. Willie Bloomquist’s days as a productive Mariner are probably over.
You like Willie and like playing Willie because he is a dependable and versatile veteran. But veterans eventually age and fade to the point where they aren’t helping the team win by playing more than sparingly. Willie has reached that point.
Some would say that’s all Willie ever was: Indeed the only teams that have ever played him more than occasionally have been teams that weren’t good. This is a better team with better players than that.
If Willie can’t handle being a late inning defensive replacement who maybe gets a fill-in start every week or so, then Jack needs to wish him well and designate him for assignment.
But it starts with you, skipper. You were hired to make the tough decisions. You need to make one now and stop playing Willie Bloomquist. Man up, and tell him his role is being reduced.
4. You have a player who can do what Willie does, and better: Brad Miller. Use him accordingly.
He may not have liked it, but the Brad Miller Super Utility Experiment actually went fairly well. In his 55 innings at positions other than his original shortstop… Brad only posted negative defensive numbers at second base, it was only minus one run, and that was over a whopping two starts (since the position is usually manned by franchise star Robinson Cano), so it’s likely his numbers improve with more time at the position. That aside, Brad was actually a plus defender in brief trials in the corner outfield, and never made an error during those 55 innings.
Brad is one of your better hitters (224/315/408 entering today). 9 of his 19 walks this year came after you started roaming him around the field a few weeks ago, so his plate discipline hasn’t suffered. Though we can’t confirm this, it might actually be helping him.
Brad is a good defensive shortstop, but so is Chris Taylor. It turns out Brad is also a decent defender across the outfield. Shortstops tend to translate well to the other infield spots, so with some work at 3rd he might be a good fill in there as well.
Mark McLemore was a key piece on the early 2000’s Mariners teams that contended for the AL West title. He filled in regularly at every position while still providing a productive bat.
Brad Miller is basically a better version of whatever you think Willie Bloomquist is. Let Brad Miller play that role instead. He could be your Mark McLemore, Lloyd.
Bring Chris Taylor back, and keep using Brad around the field.
5. It’s time to get the hook ready for Fernando Rodney. But also be quick to give him another chance.
Fernando’s arrow has shot your team in the foot a few too many times this season. Recently, he’s been scored on in 8 of his last 12 appearances, including last night’s meltdown. He is struggling, and you’re lucky he hasn’t cost you more games lately… but that said, I don’t think it’s time to give up on him. You’ve entrutsted him to be the closer and the team has paid him big money to be the closer.
I do think now is the time to give him a break from closing. For the next week or so, he needs some low leverage innings to show he can paint the black and not get tagged over 3-4 outings in a row. Let Tom Wilhelmsen or, hey, kick ass Carson Smith, close for a week if needed.
After a week, if Rodney’s doing well again, give him his closer role back (even if the fill in closer is kicking ass). Unlike other teams that say they’re giving a struggling closer a break, when in reality they’re firing him from the closer role… you’re going to be the better man and mean it when you say you’re giving him a break. Rodney will take a break, pitch some mop up or middle innings, and then he’ll resume closing.
If he returns to closing and rattles off a bunch of mostly clean saves, you’ve bolstered his faith in you, the clubhouse’s faith, and made Seattle a more attractive destination for players… by showing trust in your players, plus the willingness to nurture players through a rough patch without giving up on them.
If he continues struggling, whether he resumes closing or not… now you’ve made the change that the team needs to contend, before it’s too late.
Seriously though, either way I think Fernando needs a break from closing. Give him one. And then give him every chance to take his job back once he rebounds.
6. Stop stealing, and stop using the hit and run.
Putting the game in motion works when you have team speed. You don’t. Your team is an abysmal 54% successful (23 of 42) on stolen bases entering today. Despite your emphasis on the running game, the Mariners are below the AL average in stolen bags (28) while well above the average of times caught stealing (12).
You need to swipe about 75% of your bases for it to be a positive decision: You lose about 0.40 runs for every failed steal and gain maybe 0.18 of a run for each successful steal. In total, the running game has cost the Mariners about 3.5 runs. That doesn’t even include other botches like getting picked off or getting thrown out trying for the extra base.
Add in the almost assured failures on botched hit and runs, which always lead to bad swings and bad jumps on a battery that usually gets off a better throw because hit and runs telegraph the steal, and you’re just setting your team up for failure. Your team has a .298 on base percentage, 2nd worst in the AL. The bad swings on hit and runs combined with the hittable strikes your hitters have to take on steal attempts almost certainly has something to do with this: You’re adding strikes to every count for every batter where you do it, which makes it harder on your hitters than it needs to be.
Don’t let the Cubs’ experiment with Anthony Rizzo fool you.
1) Rizzo does have some decent footspeed. Most of the players you’re asking to run don’t.
2) Rizzo’s been sparingly sent on steals relative to your typical leadoff base stealing machine. Rizzo’s been sent 13 times total this year. Joe Maddon picks his spots to send Rizzo. He doesn’t just do it routinely.
3) Despite this, Rizzo’s only succeeded 9 of 13 times. The value of Rizzo’s stolen baserunning has been about break even: 1.62 runs gained, 1.60 runs lost.
I understand you want to use the running game, but you don’t have a team that’s good at it. Play to your team’s strengths. Help your lineup and stop hamstringing them by forcing them to kow-tow to a running game that is not working.
Lloyd, like the Mariners, I like you and I want you to succeed. I like your personality and your style working with players. Now is the time to mix in some more solid decisions that will make this team better. Some of the clubhouse might not like them, but these might be the best things for this team in the long run. They will stay on board, especially if you do these things and as anticipated the team starts winning again.
Go get it. Best of luck.
Episode I: MZ Hammer Can Touch This
Episode II: Mo LoMo*, Mo Money (*Mo LoMo is not guaranteed)
Episode III: Robby Rediscovers the Seats
Episode IV: The Default Knight Rises
Episode V: Kyle Seager is Still Here
Episode VI: So is Dustin Ackley Good, or what?
The last time this series was updated, it was a long time ago. So, without any warning or reasoning, the series resumes tonight! With perhaps the most frustrating 2014 Mariner of all, Austin Jackson. So what’s in store for the man that some might have called Action Jackson at some point? It’s hard to say. For a guy going into his age-28 season with three seasons of 3+ WAR, it should be simple enough–he’s going to be good, it’s just a matter of how good. Then he had a 55 wRC+ after being traded to the Mariners last year, and looked like possibly the worst player in baseball. Read more…
So the Mariners’ season has been kind of frustrating thus far. They sit at 7-11, or exactly the same record they had after 18 games a year ago. They’ve gotten there in a different way–they can hit a little this year, they haven’t pitched as well as they should, and the outfield defense might sometimes be described as hilarious–but regardless, they are in same place, at the same very early part of the season. It’s still too early to overreact to things like the pitching staff having an ERA so big it would emasculate Andre the Giant, or the struggles of this one guy with a .164 BABIP. But there is one move that the Mariners could make right now that would instantly make the Mariners better: DFA Willie Bloomquist, and call up Chris Taylor to take his place.
Episode I: MZ Hammer Can Touch This
Episode II: Mo LoMo*, Mo Money (*Mo LoMo is not guaranteed)
Episode III: Robby Rediscovers the Seats
Episode IV: The Default Knight Rises
Episode V: Kyle Seager is Still Here
Dustin Ackley is another one of those guys that seem to be all over this roster: the guy with obvious talent who has yet to live up to it, though he’s frustrated us all with extended flashes of brilliance. When he was drafted #2 overall, he was supposed to be a line-drive hitting machine, spraying the ball all over the field while popping an occasional homer. He was supposed to walk a ton, and not strike out much at all. In his rookie season, he hit .273/.348/.417 with a 10.6% walk rate, and looked to be on that path. Since then, he’s hit .239/.300/.355 in 1,637 plate appearances.