This is part one of a two part piece in which the three writers of SoDo Mojo discuss some select issues that the team currently faces.
1) Franklin Gutierrez, after a scorching April and May, has been awful over the last three months of the 2010 season. Are his struggles something the M’s should be worried about, or is there reason to believe Guti will revert to his 2009 form?
Griffin: Guti’s season has been a really weird one. He was great offensively in April and May, but he’s been absolutely terrible every month since. I’m not ready to start panicking, because even with mediocre offense he’s still a valuable player, but the thing that really concerns me is the drop off in walks. He drew 28 between April and May, but he’s only drawn 16 in the 3 months since. Walks are one of the things you don’t usually see drop off when a hitter’s slumping, which is why the whole thing seems so strange. Back in May I was drooling at the thought of Guti with well above average offense, but we might just have to be happy with an extremely handsome 2-3 win center fielder.
Taylor: The lack of walks is odd, and I would think it has to do with Guti pressing to get a hit after doing so poorly. And he’s clearly got some pop as he showed last season with several deep home runs against the Padres, but when you’re not making contact, you’re not going to hit home runs. Sooner or later, Guti’s going to hit a monster home run or get a game-winning hit, and that’s going to bring back a little swagger and propel him back into his offensive groove. I’m not insinuating that Franklin’s struggles are purely mental, but it’s clear that he’s less comfortable at the plate than he was in April and May, as his pitches-seen-per-plate-appearance numbers have gone down considerably since.
It seems like Guti’s defensive numbers have dropped a little as well, but, honestly, UZR is a fickle thing. Single season values aren’t the greatest tools for serious player evaluation, which is why Guti’s UZR happens to be so much lower than last year’s. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up with something like a +18 value next season, which would bolster his WAR significantly.
All in all, I’m not worried. We picked up Guti for his defense, and that alone is worth 2 or so WAR. However, if Franklin continues to hit poorly over his first 150 plate appearances of the 2011 season, we may have a problem, but the likelihood of that occurring is slim-to-none.
Brett: No, I’m not worried about Guti. His OPS is around .700 and the difference between a .700 and .780 OPS like he was near last year can fluctuate from season to season. I know his BABIP isn’t that low or anything, but I can take an awesome CF that’s true talent offensively is between a .310 and .340 wOBA. I’m not worried and the M’s shouldn’t be either.
2) The Mariners starting rotation, as it currently stands, is nothing special. Should the M’s sign a free agent starter, and if so, who? (Ex: Javier Vasquez, Jorge de la Rosa)
Griffin: Since contention in 2011 is a long shot at best, the Mariners obviously shouldn’t be making too many win-now type moves. However, as it stands, the back of the rotation next year is going to be a bit of a mess, and the team might be best suited to look for a young, middle or back of the rotation starter to shore up things next year and beyond. Someone like Jorge de la Rosa could certainly be a solid, affordable option.
Taylor: There’s a reason I mentioned Javy Vasquez and Jorge de la Rosa in the prompt for this topic. I wouldn’t be averse to signing both guys if the price is right. De La Rosa posted a 4.00 FIP in 2008, a 3.89 FIP in 2009, and a 4.37 FIP so far in 2010. He’s a lefty whose skillset fits SafeCo pretty well, and his K/9 is always somewhere around 9. At 29, with an unluckily high ERA, the M’s could snag him for 2 years and 14 million, depending on the state of the market.
Javier Vasquez pitched for the Yankees in Yankee Stadium this season, so it goes without question that he has nowhere to go but up. Again, his skillset fits well with the M’s ballpark, and though he’s 35 years old and will be coming off a forgettable season (currently sporting a 5.45 tRA as a starter), he should be expected to bounce back next season. It’s possible that his inflated ERA will keep teams from taking a flyer on him, allowing the M’s to swoop in and sign him for something around 2 years, 14 million. However, again, the market for pitching is unpredictable.
Brett: Right now it looks like our 2011 rotation will be Felix, Vargas, Pineda, Fister, RRS. I’d swap Millwood in for Fister if we trade him in the off season or something, but I think the M’s will be a 75-85 win team in 2011…why waste a bunch of money on a free agent? Though I’d sign up Javy Vasquez for 2/18 or something if it were possible.
3) What should be done with Chone Figgins? Trade him? Move him back to third?
Griffin: My opinion on the Chone Figgins situation is this: if you can move him and get something worthwhile in return, pull the trigger. If not, move him back to third base, and I don’t just mean at the beginning of 2011. There’s no reason to keep him at second base any longer, and they might as well get him re acclimated to the position he’s going to be back at once Dustin Ackley arrives.
Taylor: Figgins should stay in Seattle. His walk rates haven’t dropped noticeably, and there’s no reason to assume that he’s done as a hitter. None. Sure, he’s not getting any better, but a .260/.360/.370 season coupled with the usual 40 or so stolen bases isn’t out of the question in 2011. Perhaps I’m being too optimistic, but, either way, Figgins is a better bet than any of our in-house options.
Brett: Move Figgins back to 3rd. Call Ackley up in September, make him the every day 2B so he’s ready to face MLB pitchers in 2011. From September 1 (or after AAA playoffs) until he retires, Ackley should be our 2B. I know it screws with his service time but I think he needs the time in the majors.
4) Josh Lueke was indicted on charges of raping a young woman. He’s also posted incredible K/9 numbers in AA and appears to be Major League-ready. Is there any reason to keep him off the MLB roster in 2011?
Griffin: Not that I can think of. He’s tearing it up in AAA, and he should be a big piece of that bullpen in 2011.
Taylor: This one seems tricky, but it isn’t. The M’s need to do something for good PR. At this point, the validity of the allegations isn’t what matters, because they’re out there anyway. The problem is that there are just too many people out there who would rather have a well-behaved player who sucks than an effective trouble-causing player for the M’s to be able to sweep this issue under the rug. People are stupid. Maybe have Lueke go out and read to sick children at a hospital or something. It’s that simple. Then Larry Stone can write an article about “Lueke’s Amazing Turnaround” and the general public will stop complaining.
When Lueke’s closing out games and striking out hordes of Major League hitters, I don’t think Mariners fans will be complaining about rape allegations.
Brett: Lueke should be in the bullpen for the foreseeable future. It’s insensitive of me but I don’t care what you do off the field as long as you perform on it. I also figure we can give him the benefit of the doubt since we don’t have all the info and something like 40% of rape accusations are made up.