Did Yuniesky Betancourt cost the Mariners Stephen Strasburg?


Betancourt Mariners.jpgTom Verducci reminds us today that, but for two games, it would have been the Mariners who would have had the worst record in baseball in 2008 and thus the Mariners — and not the Nationals — who would have had the right to select Stephen Strasburg.  Specifically, going into the final two games of the season, the Mariners had lost 101 ballgames and the Nats had lost 100.  Then something unexpected happened: Yuniesky Betancourt decided to temporarily stop sucking:

That’s when Yuni decided to hit like a young Ken Griffey, Jr. He went 5-for-7 with a walk, two runs and two RBI to lead the Mariners
to 7-3 and 4-3 wins over Oakland. The Nationals clinched the Strasburg
sweepstakes by losing two games to Philadelphia.

Those two
otherwise meaningless Seattle wins changed baseball history. It could be
one of the most costly “collapses” ever to end a season. The Mariners
would be looking at a rotation today with Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee and Strasburg.

That’s a nice story, but as is usually the case, there is more to it.

For one thing, the Nationals were facing the future World Champion Philadelphia Phillies that last weekend. Philly clinched on Saturday, so they had Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and everyone else out there for that penultimate game (and in that Sunday game the Nationals themselves trotted out what was basically an American Legion lineup, thus negating the fact that Philly rested its regulars). Meanwhile the Mariners were playing an Athletics team that was far worse at the point of the season than their overall record suggested, having basically tanked the entire second half.

And let’s not just blame Bentancourt.  Indeed, in the second to last game of the year, several Mariners knocked the cover off the ball: Kenji Johjima had three RBI and Wladimir Balentein and Miguel Cairo of all people each had a couple of RBI.  They got a rare good performance from R.A. Dickey in the season’s last game and Johjima hit the ball well again that day too.  It was a team effort.

At the time I wrote “The final failure of Seattle’s failed 2008 season was winning this game,
thereby ensuring that Washington will get the first pick in next
summer’s draft.”  And, technically speaking that was correct.  But the “failure” had many authors.

And in a larger sense, wasn’t it better for Seattle to go down in a blaze of glory than to have them tank like some NBA team?  I’m not sure I could keep my love for a team that blatantly laid down for a draft pick. Could you?

Orioles interested in Denard Span

Denard Span
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
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MASN’s Roch Kubatko is reporting that the Orioles have “some level” of interest in free agent outfielder Denard Span. The Nationals did not make a $15.8 million qualifying offer to Span, which means he doesn’t come attached with draft pick compensation unlike other free agents such as Alex Gordon and Dexter Fowler.

Span, who turns 32 in February, hit a solid .301/.365/.431 with five home runs, 22 RBI, 38 runs scored, and 11 stolen bases, but took only 275 plate appearances due to back and hip injuries. He underwent season-ending hip surgery in September but is expected to be ready to participate in spring training.

The Mets and Royals have also reportedly shown interest in Span’s services.

Blue Jays showing interest in Ryan Madson

Ryan Madson
AP Photo/Orlin Wagner
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ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports that the Blue Jays are on the prowl for relievers with closing experience. Ryan Madson is one of the names on their list.

Madson, 35, had a career rebirth with the Royals in 2015. He signed a minor league deal with the club that paid him a salary of $850,000 if he made it back to the majors. Due to a plethora of arm injuries, Madson hadn’t pitched in the majors since Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS against the Cardinals as a member of the Phillies. For the Royals, he wound up becoming a crucial member of the bullpen, finishing with a 2.13 ERA and a 58/14 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings.

While Madson allowed five runs in 8 1/3 post-season innings, he pitched well when it mattered most, as he hurled three scoreless frames in three appearances in the World Series against the Mets.

Madson has closing experience, with 55 career saves. 32 of them came in 2011 when he took over the closer’s role from Brad Lidge.

After signing Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ, and trading for Jesse Chavez, the Jays have bolstered their rotation but it was reported on Saturday that interim GM Tony LaCava is still focused on upgrading the pitching staff.

Trevor Cahill considering the Pirates as a potential destination

Trevor Cahill
AP Photo/Paul Beaty

ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that free agent pitcher Trevor Cahill is looking for a one-year, bounce-back deal. The Pirates are one of the potential teams he is considering.

It’s no surprise that the Pirates are on Cahill’s list. Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage has garnered a reputation as a miracle worker after turning around the careers of a handful of pitchers, including Edinson Volquez, Francisco Liriano, and J.A. Happ. Volquez parlayed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Pirates into a two-year, $20 million deal with the Royals last December. Liriano signed with the Pirates on a one-year, $1 million contract and turned that into a three-year, $39 million deal. Happ, dealt to the Pirates from the Mariners at the most recent trade deadline, just signed a three-year, $39 million contract with the Blue Jays.

Cahill, once a highly-regarded pitching prospect, has scuffled over parts of seven seasons in the majors. The 27-year-old owns a career 4.13 ERA with a 754/427 K/BB ratio in 1,083 2/3 innings. Cahill had some brief success after signing with the Cubs as a free agent in mid-August, compiling a 2.12 ERA in 11 appearances out of the bullpen.

Blue Jays narrow GM search to two candidates: Tony LaCava and Ross Atkins

Tony LaCava
AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the Blue Jays have narrowed their search for a new general manager down to two candidates: current interim GM Tony LaCava, and Indians vice president of player personnel Ross Atkins. Former Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos resigned last month.

LaCava was promoted to interim GM on November 2 and has already made a handful of moves along with new president Mark Shapiro. The club acquired Jesse Chavez in a trade and signed pitchers Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ to multi-year deals.

Atkins worked under Shapiro in the Indians organization for 15 seasons, so it is no surprise that he is a finalist for the open GM position.