Springtime Storylines: Was the Mariners' offseason all that it was cracked up to be?

Leave a comment

Mariners logo.gifBetween now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: The new-look Seattle Mariners


The
big question: Was the Mariners’ offseason all that it was cracked up to be
?

No, but that’s mostly because it was cracked up to be something monumentally-transforming by a lot of people and it really wasn’t. It was a good offseason, make no mistake about it, but this was a team that was still deeply flawed despite 2009’s improvement. Despite all of the good things that happened over the winter, none of them disposed of those flaws in any definitive way.

Adding Chone Figgins was great because he provides some serious on-base ability, and that’s an absolute good.  But even though his presence provides a great 1-2 punch with Ichiro, the 3-4-5 punch remains a real problem.  Casey Kotchman hitting third, Milton Bradley batting cleanup and (I guess) Ken Griffey hitting fifth does not exactly put fear into the hearts of the AL West.  Taking away Russell Branyan’s power from that lineup doesn’t help matters.  Putting it all together and you don’t have much of an improvement over a lineup that had severe problems scoring runs last year.

Likewise, Cliff Lee is a wonderful addition to the starting rotation, but again, 3-4-5 — Ian Snell, Ryan Rowland-Smith and Doug Fisterdon’t resemble the sorts of pitchers that are usually found on playoff-bound teams, which is what so many people assumed the Mariners would be as Jack Zduriencik pulled the levers this winter.  An OK group, especially if the defense holds up, but one that presented depth questions even before Cliff Lee’s abdominal injury.

This isn’t to say the Mariners didn’t have a great offseason. They did. It’s just that last year’s team probably overachieved a bit, there were a lot of holes to fill and it’s too much to expect them all to be filled in one winter.

So what else is going on?

  • Last year the story in Seattle was defense, defense defense. Can it be repeated? Defense is hard to predict and is often subject to random ebbs and flows, but my gut says yes, because it’s not like anyone who played good D for them last year was a fluke or anything.  Taking away Russell Branyan at first and adding Casey Kotchman is an upgrade. Having Jack Wilson at short all year is an upgrade. Lopez moving to third and Figgins taking over at second is a tad weird (and Adrian Beltre will certainly be missed), but I don’t see either guy having trouble handling their new positions. Milton Bradley in left could be an issue, but it’s not like he’s such a fixture that he won’t be substituted for quite often.
  • Not that Bradley will always be there, what with the inevitable
    suspensions and all. Which is really just a snarky way of saying we
    don’t know which Milton Bradley the Mariners are going to get.
    Mild-mannered and relatively good citizen Texas Ranger Bradley or the
    Chicago flameout?  The story we’ve heard all offseason is that the
    Seattle press is a lot less antagonistic than their Chicago counterparts
    and that if a man can just disappear anywhere it’s in Seattle. But
    Bradley hasn’t been particularly quiet this spring
    , and one wonders if he won’t find a way to continue the high drama in his new home.

  • Cliff Lee’s abdomen is obviously the big story of late spring for the Mariners. Lee had this type of an injury in Cleveland once.  The biggest problem wasn’t getting him back. It was that he had a hard time pitching effectively once he got back.  If Lee isn’t Lee once he heals, this team is going to be in a lot of trouble.
  • Though his stats weren’t anything special Dustin Ackley is turning heads at Mariners’ camp. The former outfielder-turned-first baseman-turned second baseman could be in Seattle this year. If he makes it, Figgins might go back to third and Lopez may be out altogether.

So how
are they gonna do?

This is not a Mariners’ team with a lot of margin for error. They have no reliable power threat. One of the two aces on which they’ve wagered so much is hurt.  They wouldn’t have to experience unprecedented bad luck in
order to go into the toilet.  I like the Mariners’ direction, but I don’t think
they’re heading to the playoffs this year.

Prediction: Third
place, AL West, followed by a series of highly unfair articles criticizing Jack Zduriencik for not doing enough to pull the team into contention.

Click
here for other Springtime Storylines

It is not Tony Clark’s job to compromise. His job is to advocate for the players.

Getty Images
16 Comments

Ken Rosenthal published a column today that I cannot describe as anything other than bizarre.

The news nugget in the column: the league and the union met on Monday to talk about certain proposed rules changes which, by now, are pretty familiar to you: a pitch clock, a further reduction of mound visits and, at least in spring training and in the All-Star Game, putting a man on second base to begin the 10th inning in tie games. You know, pace of play stuff that has been much discussed in this space and elsewhere.

The idea here is that the league wants the players to agree to implement these things. If the players do not, the league — after a one year waiting period which we’ve already gone through — can unilaterally implement them. Rob Manfred, for a lot of reasons, doesn’t want to do that, so he’s continuing to seek the players’ agreement. The players have never been big fans of in-game changes, so they resist. That all makes sense as far as it goes. It’s nothing new.

The bizarre part: Rosenthal spends most of the column arguing that the players need to set aside their own desires and compromise with the league “for the good of the sport.” (the headline actually uses that phrase). He argues that they should set aside the dissatisfaction they have over all manner of financial issues in the game right now and address the owners’ priorities. He says Tony Clark needs to lead them in this compromise:

For the good of the sport – a sport he loves as much as anyone – Clark needs to serve as a calming force, build a consensus for positive change and demonstrate greater leadership than before. Clark is aware league officials portray him as someone who says “no” to everything when he is responsive at all. This is his chance – an important chance, with far greater battles ahead – to prove that perception wrong.

This is crazy. For a number of reasons.

  • It’s crazy because presumes that it’s Tony Clark’s job to act a an intermediary between the owners and players and to prod the players to compromise when that is precisely the opposite of his job. He is their advocate. It is his job to fight for them, not to play the good cop for Rob Manfred;
  • It’s crazy because if there can be anything said about Clark’s style before now, being too tough a negotiator is not one of them. Sure, he may offer a quick “no” on small things like rules changes, but he has said “yes” to more major owner ideas in his six years at the helm of the union than his three predecessors did in the previous 45 years combined. I mean, we have a soft salary cap and specific rules aimed at depressing free agent salaries now. Clark actually said yes to those things. Marvin Miller is still spinning in his grave;
  • It’s crazy because there is no call whatsoever for the owners to make any compromises with respect to players’ current concerns over the slow free agent market and players’ suspicions of collusion. Indeed, there’s a paragraph in there that says, in short, “if players have a beef about that stuff they should file a grievance or else shut up about it.” I mean, it’s Rosenthal and he’s a very nice and polite man so, no, he does not put it that bluntly, but that’s the takeaway;
  • It’s crazy because the advice it proposes to Clark — any matters that the owners bring up should be handled piecemeal and that players should not ask for anything* that addresses their own priorities when the owners seek concessions from players on their priorities — is exactly the opposite of how organized labor works. Indeed, handling workplace matters in piecemeal fashion whenever management brings stuff up is exactly the situation that existed before the MLBPA had any power at all. It’s exactly how management would draw things up if they had it to do over again. 

Clark is not an intermediary between the owners and the players. He is an advocate for them. He is, quite literally and by specific design, on their side and it is his job to fight for what they want and for what is in their best interests. It is not his job to “compromise.” What’s more, the owners cannot expect the players — many of whom are hopping mad at how the past two offseasons have gone — to pretend none of that is happening and approach the owners with totally open minds and agree to do thing they don’t really want to do “for the good of the game.”

Should the players have negotiated a better deal on money stuff two years ago? Absolutely. But then again maybe the owners should’ve asked for these rules changes they want now back then too. That Rosenthal expects one party’s concerns to be “case closed” and the other party’s concerns to be perpetually subject to renegotiation makes no sense to me at all. In reality, everything is negotiable, always. Rules touching on every aspect of the game, on-field and off-field, have been renegotiated or altered in between CBA bargaining sessions over the years. If one side wants to re-open the CBA they can’t expect the other side not to do it too.

Rob Manfred and the owners have every right to come to the players and ask for stuff. They cannot, however, expect the players to pretend everything else is hunky dory and assume a “compromise” stance “for the good of the game.” And let’s be honest, if the “for the good of the game” standard is what triggers renegotiation of things, I’d argue that it’s high time to renegotiate the financial parts of the CBA, because the current state of affairs is doing the game no favors.

Whatever the case, Rosenthal’s column reads like a message passed from owners to the players with little regard for the realities of the current relationship between them. As one of my Twitter followers observed a little while ago, it reads like one of those political columns in which a member of one political party writes about how the other party “really needs to nominate someone who can reach across the aisle and compromise.” Maybe that’s what the writer would love to see, but it’s unrealistic in the extreme and flies in the face of what’s best for the other party. Same too here with the owners and the players.

I’m not sure where this column came from, honestly. It reads like a leaked strategy memo from the owners.

*UPDATE: To be fair, Rosenthal does say that the players should “work around the edges of the CBA” and propose “non-economic measures” that could possibly address teams’ seeming lack of a desire to compete and sign players. For my part I feel like that’s an artificial distinction — asking for the moon if you really just want a rock is not the worst way to get something in a negotiation — but it’s not as if Rosenthal is proposing a complete unilateral disarming of the players’ negotiating position.