Reflections on the Mariners
- Updated: April 13, 2009
With frontline pitchers John Lackey, Ervin Santana, Kelvim Escobar and Justin Durocher out for significant amounts of playing time for the Angels and Athletics, the Mariners had an increased opportunity to steal the AL West out from the baseball world’s nose (however slim it was). However, Ichiro landed himself on the 15 day DL for the first time in his career with a blood ulcer in his stomach. He was placed on it retroactively to spring training, so he was available to play this past weekend against Oakland.
Brandon Morrow told management that due to his concern for monitoring his diabetes, he feels it’s best for his body to go back to the bullpen and become the team’s closer for the foreseeable future. The Mariners’ 2009 projected win total went from the high 70s to the mid 70s over spring training, and the future looks dimmer without Morrow in the rotation and a couple of wins off per season in years beyond. Taking Morrow’s place in the rotation will be left-handed soft-tosser Ryan Rowland-Smith. Rowland-Smith has significantly less potential as a starter and would be lucky to have Jarrod Washburn‘s career; upside being that he’s 90 percent of Washburn already.
To rub salt in the wound, top pitching prospect Philippe Amount will also be permanently moving to the bullpen to become a future relief ace. This is the first decision GM Jack Zduriencik has made that I am vehemently against. Amount, only age 20, had control problems as most 6-foot-7 20 year olds do, but I have to reiterate: He’s only 20 years old!! Relievers are usually made from starting pitching prospects who have failed in the rotation but still have fantastic stuff. Aumont’s stuff is certainly fantastic – he features a mid 90s sinking fastball and a hard slider with both diving and lateral movement. But without pitching in even High-A ball, he certainly has yet to fail. The silver lining here is that he’s on an accelerated path to the Majors now that he doesn’t have to learn a changeup or have as much command of his pitches. But it is by no means worth it.
Here’s the big problems I have with both Morrow and Aumont moving to the bullpen: Relievers have short shelf lives, it’s easy to build a good bullpen from the scrap heap, and barring unusual occurrences, a league average starting pitcher over 200 innings is worth as much as a star closer. The chance for Morrow to be a league average starter by defensive-independent metrics in 2009 was very high with an outside chance of being a borderline star (a solid 2-slot starter). Aumont was drafted #5 overall in 2007 with projections of Roy Halladay capabilities, but as a reliever his ceiling has been to a fraction of that.
The second Zduriencik move I have a problem with was sending catcher Jeff Clement back to Triple-A Tacoma for a fourth season. At 27 years old, it’s make or break time for Clement and he has nothing to prove after doing his best Barry Bonds impression in 2008 with a 1.131 OPS in a pitcher’s park rivaling Petco Park in San Diego – good for a staggering .475 wOBA. If Clement struggles in 2009, possibly due in part to frustration, his trade value will plummet. The organization needs to make a decision: is Clement going to receive a legitimate opportunity to catch at the Major League level, or is it time to move him to first base so he can concentrate on his hitting? Not only does this affect Clement, but the Mariners’ other top catching prospect Adam Moore has to repeat Double-A in West Tennessee after showing that it’s no challenge for him anymore. The one benefit to this decision was that it made for less complication at the C/DH slots at the Major League level, but it’s a very steep price to pay.
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