Robinson Cano

2014 Preview: Seattle Mariners

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. Next up: The Seattle Mariners.

The Big Question: Robinson Cano and . . . then what?

The Mariners certainly made the biggest splash of the offseason in signing Robinson Cano to a ten-year, $240 million deal. Unlike a lot of teams, a big signing like this may have been necessary for credibility purposes, as the book on Seattle for years has been that no elite offensive free agents wanted to go there. But no matter how significant the signing was, one player is not a plan. It’s merely a start. Do the Mariners have a plan?

If they have one, it’s hard to see based on their non-Cano moves. Corey Hart missed all of last season. Logan Morrison has yet to live up to expectations. Justin Smoak is still around. As of a week ago there is still talk of a Kendrys Morales reunion. Maybe there is some sport where a bunch of mostly immobile 1B/DH types are the ingredients of a championship recipe, but it’s certainly not post Steroid-Era major league baseball.

Not that the Mariners had to do it all at once. They’ve been a pretty bad team for awhile and it will take some time to get better. But they don’t have unlimited time. Robinson Cano can be expected to be an elite, team-leading offensive talent for a couple more years, but as he gets into the second half of that ten-year deal, he’s going to be a role player at best. There is a window in Seattle. It could stay open for five years, but it’s way more likely to last two or three, and in that time the Mariners have to get some useful pieces around their $240 million man.

Right now it’s Cano, Kyle Seager, Michael Saunders and, I dunno, Brad Miller? Maybe Hart and Morrison exceed expectations. That could all make for some improvement. But they just don’t have the firepower yet. They need to do more than pay a quarter billion to a guy and hope for the best.

What else is going on?

  • There’s reason to like this pitching staff, assuming it can all get healthy. Felix Hernandez is Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker should be pretty darn good, but the latter two of those gents are going to start the season on the disabled list. If they return quickly, yes, this is a rotation that plays. If they don’t, Scott Baker is a the number two starter and it goes downhill from there. UPDATE: sorry, wrote this before Scott Baker was released. Still, point stands: if Walker and Iwakuma are hurt, the rotation after Hernandez is in trouble.
  • Another big pickup was Fernando Rodney. Not a bad pickup, but he was definitely a different dude in 2013 than he was in 2012. He has to throw more strikes this year to justify the pickup. Danny Farquhar and Charlie Furbush are pretty solid setup men, though, and Yoervis Medina can strike dudes out. This could be a pretty good bullpen assuming that an Iwakuma and Walker-free rotation don’t burn them out early.
  • There’s a new manager in town: Lloyd McClendon. It’ll be interesting to see the sort of tone he sets in the early going. Back when he managed the Pirates he didn’t do much to impress anyone, even once you adjusted for the bad teams he was given. After several years at Jim Leyland’s knee in Detroit, however, McClendon has spent this spring sticking up for his players with a quickness and seeming very comfortable dealing with the press and the day-to-day with an easygoing aplomb. Maybe things will be different the second time around.

Prediction: Cano is nice, but it’s gonna take more. Fourth place, American League West.

Great Moments in Not Understanding The Rules

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Bill Livingston of the Cleveland Plain Dealer is a Hall of Fame voter. In the past he has voted for players who used PEDs, but he’s never been totally happy with it, seeing the whole PED mess as a dilemma for voters.

On the one hand he doesn’t like voting for users and doesn’t like harming those who were clean by shifting votes away from them, but on the other hand, he doesn’t want to pretend history didn’t happen and that baseball hasn’t been filled with cheaters forever. What to do?

This year he decided to abstain altogether. A fair and noble act if one is as conflicted as Livingston happens to be. Except . . . he didn’t actually abstain:

Major league baseball will confer bronzed immortality on a few players Wednesday when the results of the national baseball writers’ balloting for the Hall of Fame will be announced.

I had a 2017 ballot. I returned it signed, but blank, with an explanatory note.

A blank ballot, signed and submitted, is not an abstention. It’s counted as a vote for no one. Each “no” vote increases the denominator in the calculation of whether or not a candidate has received 75% of the vote and has gained induction. An abstention, however, would not. So, in effect, Livingston has voted against all of the players on the ballot, both PED-tainted and clean, even though it appears that that was not his intention.

This is the second time in three years a Cleveland writer has had . . . issues with his Hall of Fame ballot. In the 2014-15 voting period, Paul Hoynes simply lost his ballot. Now Livingston misunderstood how to abstain.

I worry quite often that Ohio is gonna mess up a major election. I guess I’m just worrying about the wrong election.

Hall of Fame voters are making news, not exercising democratic rights

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Last month the Baseball Writers Association of America voted to make all Hall of Fame ballots public beginning with next year’s vote for the 2018 induction class. In the past 24 hours or so, as this year’s Hall of Fame voting period comes to a close, a lot of folks have been talking about that. Most notably in Jayson Stark’s piece over at ESPN regarding next year’s brave new public world.

Stark is pro-transparency on the ballots, as are the vast majority of BBWAA members who voted on the public ballot measure (it passed 80-9). Not everyone Stark quotes in his article is on board with it, though:

“I’ve already seen a lot of people change their votes from one year to the next,” said one of the strongest dissenters to this decision, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale. “People have changed their votes based on public opinion.”

Two other sources in the story, Scott Miller of Bleacher Report and a voter who asked to remain anonymous equated their Hall of Fame vote with democracy and invoked the sanctity of the secret ballot. “The No. 1 reason I was against this rule is that in this country, it’s a democracy, and everyone has a vote on different things. And I hate to see a blanket rule that forces everyone to go in one direction,” Miller said. Here’s what the anonymous guy said:

“To me, a secret ballot is a fundamental of democracy. You should be able to vote your conscience without having to explain your vote. But once it’s public, you’re open to public pressure. And that’s not what we want in a democracy. We’re not elected representatives. We’re chosen to be part of a voting group.”

This is ridiculous of course. Voting for the Hall of Fame is not exercising democratic rights. It is making news and making history. Hall of Fame voters are making decisions which will fundamentally alter baseball history and which matter greatly to a large number of baseball fans. They are not advancing their own or society’s interests at the ballot box the way citizens do on election day. Despite the fact that the form of their action here is, technically speaking, a ballot, they are making news in the same way a GM makes a news with a trade, the commissioner makes news with a rule change or a team makes news by winning a World Series.

Would any of these voters — who are credentialed members of the media, by the way, and like to style themselves as truth-seeking members of the Fourth Estate — accept silence from the people who make the news on the beat they cover? Would they be content if the newsmakers whose acts they chronicle demanded anonymity the way they themselves do now? Of course they wouldn’t. And if they got the same silent treatment they’d prefer to give, they’d write one of those petulant little columns they love about players who “duck the press” after a game.

Suck it up, journalists. Act the way you expect the newsmakers you cover to act and own your decisions. Don’t pretend for a moment that you’re not the subject of, and not the reporter of, the story when Hall of Fame season comes around.