If Mariners are done with Lopez, suitors should be plentiful

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jose lopez getty.jpgIt’s been suspected by some, but never phrased so strongly. Seattle Times writer Geoff Baker — our most trusted Mariners news source — wrote Tuesday that he “seriously doubts” second baseman Jose Lopez will still be a Mariner by the start of spring training.
No legitimate Lopez rumors have sprung up yet, with the little talk surrounding him more concentrated on whether he could become the Mariners’ full-time first baseman.
Lopez had the Triple Crown numbers of a first baseman last season, coming in at .272-25-96. He also smacked 42 doubles. However, it took him 613 at-bats to get there. With just 24 walks on the season, his OBP was a lousy .303. He scored just 69 runs despite batting third for much of the season.
Lopez has four full major league seasons in and has never walked more than 30 times in any of them.
On the other hand, Lopez is just now turning 26 (today, actually), and he truly was a force in Seattle’s lineup after a rough first two months. From May 29 on, he hit .295/.321/.526. The only second basemen to drive in more runs last season were Aaron Hill and Brandon Phillips.
Lopez is also rather inexpensive. He’ll make a total of $7.75 million in his final two seasons before free agency.
So, why would the Mariners be at all anxious to move him? Part of it is the OBP. Mostly, though, it’s about defense. While UZR has rated Lopez a bit above average at second base over the course of the last four seasons, the Mariners clearly think he’s a liability there. It’s why they stuck him at first base over his objections while Russell Branyan was hurt, and it’s why they’re thinking about moving him now even though it’s doubtful that they’d be willing to turn second base over to Matt Tuiasosopo or Bill Hall. Maybe they’ll go to Dustin Ackley eventually, but he shouldn’t be ready until 2011 at the earliest.
I’m more on the Mariners’ side here: Lopez is pretty clearly below average. He’s strong on the double play, but he lacks range. If he worked on getting into better shape, then maybe he could stay there for another half dozen years or so. As is, he might be more useful somewhere else.
What surprises me is that the Mariners aren’t viewing third base as an option. They have a hole there with Adrian Beltre leaving, and Lopez clearly has the arm for the position. I think Lopez would become a fine third baseman in short order.
But it appears more likely that the Mariners are set on trading Lopez. The Dodgers, Cubs and Diamondbacks have the biggest needs at second base, and the Mets would like to make a change from Luis Castillo. I could definitely see Lopez hitting 30 homers in Wrigley Field next year and then moving to first or third in 2011 if Derrek Lee and/or Aramis Ramirez choose to depart.
The Mariners would likely ask for young pitching in return and they could also inquire about Hak-Ju Lee, a talented young shortstop buried behind Cubs’ No. 1 prospect Starlin Castro. Another option as a second or third piece in a deal would be Jake Fox, who would make a lot of sense as a right-handed option at DH and first base.
If Lopez is open to playing third base, the market for his services would further expand. There might even be some teams interested in using him as a corner outfielder. Young, inexpensive right-handed power doesn’t come along all that often.

How Yu Darvish tipped his pitches during the World Series

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You hear a lot about pitchers tipping pitches. It’s often offered up post-facto as an excuse for poor performance by the pitcher himself or his own team. It’s sort of like the “best shape of my life” thing being offered in the offseason to talk about why the player got injured or played badly the previous year. “Smitty’s stuff is still great, he was just tipping his pitches,” said a source close to the player whose stuff is not really great anymore.

Which isn’t to say that pitchers don’t tip pitches. Of course they do. Opposing teams look for it, pick up on it and take advantage of it whenever they can. It’s just that (a) the opposing team has an interest in not talking about it, lest the pitcher STOP tipping its pitches; and (b) the guy actually tipping his pitches doesn’t want to talk specifically about it lest he starts doing it again.

Which is what makes this article at Sports Illustrated so interesting. In it Tom Verducci talks to an anonymous Houston Astros player who explains how Dodgers starter Yu Darvish was tipping his pitches during the World Series, leading to him getting absolutely shellacked in Games 3 and 7. The upshot: the Astros knew when a slider or a cutter was coming, they waited for it and they teed off.

Darvish is a free agent now. I’m guessing, whoever signs him, knows exactly what they’ll gave him work on the first day of spring training.