Seattle’s new regime made defense a priority during the offseason,
acquiring elite fly-catchers Franklin Gutierrez and Endy Chavez to team
with Ichiro Suzuki for a three-center fielder outfield and the results have predictably been dramatic.
Last season the Mariners ranked 11th among AL teams in runs allowed,
but so far this year they’ve been by far the best team in the entire
league at preventing runs while slicing their ERA from 4.73 to 3.59.
Improved pitching has obviously played a big role, but a dramatic
change in the quality of the Mariners’ outfield defense has been an
overlooked component. Or at least it was. Chavez suffered a torn ACL in a collision Friday with Yuniesky Betancourt, knocking him out for the remainder of this season and possibly part of 2010.
Chavez is a corner outfielder who was hitting just .273/.328/.343, so
at first glance you might think that his injury would actually help the
Mariners, but his glove in left field was a huge asset. In fact, with
Chavez, Gutierrez, and Suzuki playing 80 percent of the left field,
center field, and right field innings Ultimate Zone Rating ranks the Mariners’ outfield as the best in baseball defensively at 22.2 runs above average.
Jarrod Washburn is one of the most extreme fly-ball pitchers in the league, so it’s no coincidence
that his ERA has improved from 4.67, 4.32, and 4.69 in his first three
years in Seattle to 3.29 this season. Washburn hasn’t become a new man
at the age of 34 and his secondary numbers show him as the same
mediocre pitcher, but having three center fielders chasing down
everything in the gaps made him look a lot better.
Seattle’s outfield defense will still be plenty strong without Chavez,
because Gutierrez is an amazing center fielder and Suzuki will probably
win his ninth straight Gold Glove in right field, but with Wladimir
Balentien now in left field they’ve gone from spectacular to merely
very good amid rumors that Washburn is on the trading block.
Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports that the Tigers are in discussions with free agent starter Jordan Zimmermann. His sources have told him that the talks have become “serious”.
Zimmermann, 29, has a career 3.32 ERA across parts of seven seasons in the majors. He finished fifth in National League Cy Young Award balloting in 2014, finishing with a 2.66 ERA and a 182/29 K/BB ratio over 199 2/3 innings.
Among starters who have amassed at least 1,000 innings since 2009, only Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, Madison Bumgarner, and Zack Greinke have compiled a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Zimmermann’s 4.09. While he doesn’t have the star power of other free agents such as Greinke or David Price, the Tigers would certainly improve their rotation by bringing him on board.
Having already added Jesse Chavez and J.A. Happ to the mix and re-signing Marco Estrada early in the offseason, Blue Jays interim GM Tony LaCava said the team will continue to pursue pitching upgrades, as Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports. Nicholson-Smith added that LaCava declined to comment on free agent ace David Price. It is believed that the Jays will not pursue Price and other big-name free agent starting pitchers given their November activity.
The Jays re-signed Estrada to a two-year, $26 million deal on November 13, acquired Chavez from the Athletics in exchange for reliever Liam Hendriks on November 20 and signed Happ to a three-year, $36 million deal on Friday.
Nicholson-Smith notes in a column on Sportsnet that the Jays need to address the bullpen in particular. That is especially true after swapping Hendriks, who had a career-best 2.92 ERA out of the Jays’ bullpen in 2015, for a back-end starting pitcher.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports spoke to an anonymous baseball executive, who said that Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”. The Nationals are hoping to trade both Papelbon and the man he displaced, Drew Storen.
Papelbon has a poor reputation in baseball, particularly after a dugout altercation with superstar outfielder Bryce Harper. Focusing strictly on what he does on the field, Papelbon still gets the job done. The 35-year-old finished the last season with a combined 2.13 ERA, 24 saves, and a 56/12 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings between the Phillies and Nationals.
The Nationals owe Papelbon $11 million for the 2016 season.
Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper reports that corner infielder Mike Hessman has retired from professional baseball after 20 seasons. Hessman hit 433 home runs in the minor leagues, an all-time record. He broke Buzz Arlett’s record this past August and with style as #433 was a grand slam.
Hessman, 37, was selected in the 16th round of the 1996 draft by the Braves and remained with the organization through the 2004 season. He then went to the Tigers from 2005-09, the Mets in 2010, then drifted into the Astros and Reds’ farm systems before returning to the Tigers for the last two years.
Hessman took 250 plate appearances at the major league level, batting .188/.272/.422 with 14 home runs and 33 RBI.