To rebuild or not? My take (and Mark Cuban's)

Hi guys - longtime reader, first time poster.  I love the discussion here.  It's one of the best ways I keep up w/ the M's as a transplanted Seattleite in LA.

Matt's post pulled me into the fray :)

My simple take: Russell the Muscle is tons of fun to watch.  He gets the fans excited in a rough season (that might be short Cliff Lee soon, ugh).  To me that's worth a lot more than xx WAR.

Here's what Mark Cuban says (in an article about the LeBron madness):

Cuban says there is a cardinal rule in being the kind of owner who appeals to free agents: "Never quit on a season to save money ... free agents who place a priority on winning don't want to go to teams where there is a history and significant risk that if things don't go according to plan, the owner would demand a huge salary dump that kills the current and future for the team."

I think organization is huge with athletes (the right ones, who prioritize winning).  It's already hard enough to sell ballplayers on rainy Seattle.  Plus the M's have sunk into a kind of inferiority complex recently (which is sadly a default state for Seattle sports in my experience).  Z is trying hard to change that, I'd guess it is one of his main missions as an exec.  Quitting on yet another season is going the wrong direction, and letting last year's very real gains slip away, IMHO.

Since the Sonics were abducted, and I've been in LA almost 8 years, I've become a big Lakers fan.  Not too proud of it, but these things are not always in one's emotional control :)  Anyway I have gotten the experience of rooting for a true winning franchise.  It's verrrry different from being a Seattle sports fan.  I hope we can get there.


TAD's picture

Hey Ben
Nice post.  The M's have a stated two pronged goal and that is to win both now and strengthen the system for sustained success.
If the M's do desire to be players in the FA market they must show to their future potential employees they are willing to both spend the money but also have a history of winning.  If the winning culture remains absent, the M's will need to overpay any FA who may be a difference maker.

Taro's picture

Winning now and in the future doesn't work in baseball unless you have an insane amount of resources (The Yankees) or a combination of a tremendous farm system, great GM, and great luck (90s Braves).
We've seen this with the Mariners and it just doesn't work. The Ms have been 're-tooling' for 8 years now and they have a worse record over that period than the rebuilding Indians.
The Indians have worse attendance for reasons either than winning.

Taro's picture

I also feel that Branyan's impact is being drastically overstated.
A couple wins isn't going to make an impact on attendance and could end up being annoying if its the difference between a few picks in next years draft.

Ben's picture

Taro, I completely respect your point and always enjoy reading your comments.  That said, playing for draft picks is IMHO a loser mentality.  It is hard to quantify what that does to a team vs. the marginal value of the better picks.  But I am sure it has some effect.  It's not like the players don't know exactly what's going on.
And my point is, nothing groundbreaking but for the average Seattle family that goes to a couple M's games a year, Branyan is a reason to watch.  TV ratings count too.  And suites, if the law firm or corporation can't give away its box seats once Lee's gone because non-Felix games are dreary...maybe they don't renew.
Anyway it is a matter of philosophy and strategy, so I respect all sides' viewpoints.  Ultimately I don't think this move alone matters much to the bottom line either way.

IcebreakerX's picture

That it took an entire organizational turnover to get rid of the loser mentality last year. They fired everyone from GM to 1st Base Coach and left it to new management to review the ones that didn't get shoved through the trash compactor.
This is the sort of move that keeps wind in the sails just enough so the soldiers don't become zombies and start into Pirates/Royals implosions.

6 not that Brnyan won't really change attendence or the might help a tiny bit...but the problem is that philosophically, Bavasi proved that you really cannot "build for the future AND win now"...the Mariners tried this.  And it horribly backfired and left us with a flat farm system and 100 losses.


Bavasi proved that BAVASI cannot build for the future and win now.
Are the Pirates cursed, or just stupid?  I vote for stupid, so I wouldn't call the next guy who tried to build that club through the draft a moron for employing the same strategy that failed his predecessor.  It's not the strategy that's the problem, it's the players chosen to employ that strategy.
See: 2010 Mariners team construction of pitching and defense first and second, offense third.
There's not one way to build a team, nor one way to screw it up.  The Yankees have spent a ton of money forever but sucked for a while there in the 80s and early 90s.  There are small market teams the compete and some that are terrible.  There are overspenders who crash and burn and those who win titles.
Building an offensive juggernaut can garner a World Series appearance, but so can a pitching juggernaut.  And both can fail.
Flushing the now for the future is no guarantee of success.  Neither is trying to win both.  It's not the STRATEGY.
Adding Branyan as a place-holder and signing A-Gone in 2012 helps 2012 just fine by keeping the spot OPEN for a free agent, instead of tying it up with a lesser player we can't shift because our minor leaguers faceplant and force our hand. Building a winner to help convince Fielder (or others) to sign here instead of viewing us as a 105 loss doormat and going elsewhere helps us.
Being able to bid for free agent power bats with the knowledge that you DO have at least ONE already and taking the pressure off to overpay and thus finding a bargain late helps us in 2011 too (yeah, I'm still assuming Russ is here then).
The equation isn't as simple as "young cheap players good, older more expensive ones bad." You're running the numbers like old-time baseball men, looking at RBI and batting average as the end of the argument.
It's more nuanced than you're admitting.

TAD's picture

Big G_Money,
you made the point that I wanted, and hit it out of the park. 
A failed strategy does not necessarily mean that the strategy was a poor strategy.  There are many several parts to the M's organization and if any one area falls short well then a the strategy may then not bring about the needed results.  And the failure to achieve the level of competence in more than one are brought about the fall of the Bavasi regime.  Have you happened to look at the failure of our draft throughout the 90's, no wonder we were not building for the future.
I could easily point my finger at a number of things I thought the M's have done right and what they should do to improve.  No matter how simple the solution sounds it is much easier verbalize it than to implement it.  Ergo there are no simple solutions.  And as the Pirates, Royal, Toronto, Baltimore, Indians,... rebuilding sounds like an answer but tell me who has the crystal ball that can tell for certainity that when you come back out on the other side of a 3-5 yr plan your team is now a contender.  It does happen but then again it may only be a 1 yr flash before the rebuilding begins again because the payroll is to high and the team no longer has a fanbase to support such a payroll.

Ben's picture

Perfectly put.  Lack of talent up and down the org (NOT just on the field) has done in the Mariners.  Pathetic draft record.  Poor development.  It used to be that once guys left the M's system they blew up (Choo).  Now they suck everywhere! (Clement, Balentien, Morrow).  Decision makers have not been talented, ergo they have not been able to recognize talent.
Enter Z.  He is clearly a gifted businessman who understands the need to effect organizational change from the top.  But it's hard to change a whole organization quickly.  Think how many people work for the M's organization.  And forget about Jason Bay, why would the best up and coming AA pitching coaches and assistant scouting directors want to come work for the M's?  Only if they want to be part of a turnaround.
Mike Carp and all our other mediocre minor league hitters, those guys are not the solution.  Who really cares if they get 200 ABs to develop this year?  We need to develop some real stars before we'll get anywhere in MLB.  Hopefully Ackley breaks our prospect losing streak.


I'm not "running the numbers"...I'm looking at the hand the Mariners are currently dealt and finding it hard to believe adding Branyan makes enough of a difference to change the bidding for free agents (who avoid this club even when we ARE considered a potential contender because the location is bad and the market is not impressive) to accept the use of players who have at least the potential to be useful down the road to acquire said player.
You're acting as though Branyan is a full time slugger...he's not.  He can't stay healthy...never will stay healthy now that he's 34 and getting older looking looking every day at the plate, and he's unlikely to help us much at all when it comes to attracting free agents since he's still viewed as a marginal first baseman by the baseball community (see the global refusal to offer him a 2-year guaranteed contract or any significant money).
I wouldn't have had a problem with the Mariners trading for someone who could actually help us full time in 2011...Branyan is not that guy...he's just a waste of time that could be spent on developing something better.


Okay.  So if I've got this right, these are the problems with Branyan:
1) He's not going to be here long enough to be useful - maybe not even here next year period - and we should use his slot for someone who could be a longer term solution (although he's instantly the second best bat we have just by stepping on the field and will likely only drop perhaps to #3 even with a great offseason if he stays, and no longer term solution we can put our hands on is likely to be better in the next 18 months). It may also cripple our minor-league-stud-finding mission and the entire 2012 season because there's one less spot to potentially test drive them in on the big club.
2) Yes, he's a 120ish OPS+ bat, but he's not especially durable and can't be counted on full-time (which I would think would mean that we could then use his slot if injured for whatever wonderstud in the minors is hitting well and deserving of a shot at being a longer term solution, but whatever).
3) Nobody else wants to give him a long-term contract so he's not helpful when trying to get other FAs here and he's too old and broken to be a part of any future pennant winner (though no one wanting to give him a contract should mean he's not as deathly expensive as, say, what the Royals paid Jose Guillen for less production or what we're paying Bradley, and I was talking about fielding consistently competitive teams being useful when attracting FAs, not the joys of playing with Branyan specifically).
4) Zeke or our light-hitting SS trade pieces could have been useful to us either on the field or in another trade, and giving them up now is pointless and a waste of resources for the above reasons.
Is that about right?
We don't like adding a plus bat to the lineup on a short term contract that doesn't hamstring us in any way fiscally or in terms of years.  We don't want a #5 hitter because he's taking at-bats from worse hitters. Putting ourselves in a favorable negotiating position with him and enlivening a roster for at least three months and potentially a year and a half for the price of a couple of prospects is silly and untenable.
It's an interesting angle, to me, this idea that Russ has ZERO value to this team (other than a touch of crowd excitement and maybe one win over the rest of the year).  That he has negative value to this team even if we keep him for next year.  And that problems from his signing will linger into 2012 and beyond.
Taro far preferred Branyan and Carp as his backup to any sort of starting effort from Kotchman before the season began (as did I, and I believe you as well Matt).  Now Branyan is a joke of epic proportions even though our other plan did fail and Carp has also failed, while Branyan's been fine in Cleveland.
If we'd signed Branyan to a 2 year contract before the season would it have been the worst idea ever?  Because that's effectively what we're talking about.  We just lost 2 prospects and half a season of Branyan by doin' it late.
Is a potential 2011 rotation of Felix/Fister/Vargas/Bedard/Pineda really so inept that we can't possibly use Branyan's bat to chase down the West or the Wild Card next season and we need to run and hide now?


The problem that you've added Branyan...unless you poweflush him before 2011, there is nowhere else in that line-up that w can feasably add a power bat.  Can't do DH because BOTH Branyan and radley might need to play there at some point.  Can't do LF because you've got Ackley and Saunders to find at bats for.  Can't upgrade anywhere at all except possibly C or SS if you can find a player there, which is EXCEEDINGLY hard to do.  You're locked in at 3B (Lopez), 2B (Figgins), CF (Guti), RF (Ichiro), LF/DH (Bradley), 1B (Branyan) and most likely C (Moore/Johnson), and most likely LF (Ackley/Saunders) do improve this offense enough to contend in 2011 while Branyan is still here?  Answer: you don't.
We have a fantastic rotation THIS year...and we're in dead freakin' last because we score 3 runs a game.


Either Branyan is injury prone and won't play the whole season, or he will play the whole season + some of DH because he's now somehow blocking BOTH spots.
He can't do all that.  It's not possible for him to block both DH and 1B. If he plays a full season at 1B that leaves DH fully open for Bradley and whomever else.  If he needs the DH slot, then you've got a 1B slot open - just move your DH over there. If you only expect him to get 400 ABs then that's even more available ABs. 
Branyan is also a full 30% production upgrade from the sad mess that has manned 1B (or DH) for us all year if he only DOES get 400 ABs.  Who are you going to get - who will fit into a budget that still has to swallow Bradley's 12 million - who can do better? "how do improve this offense enough to contend in 2011 while Branyan is still here?"  Branyan IS a giant improvement, not some stumbling block of deranged suckitude who cannot be overcome. 
And why is Lopez somehow guaranteed for next year?  He has a club option for next year, we're not locked into him.  Has his .606 OPS somehow looked special enough for us to use it?  Punting him, moving Chone back to 3B and installing Ackley at 2nd takes care of Ackley's ABs just fine.
Flushing Branyan's 120 OPS+ (or better) to add a different 120 OPS+ bat isn't improvement, it's treading water.  We should want Branyan AND another bigger bat.  If it WAS a 3B bat (say we traded for Gordon somehow and moved him back to 3B, since the Royals are now shoving him into the OF) then Ackley can kill the first couple of months in Tacoma while Chone plays 2nd.  Then Ackley can come up and split time with Saunders.    We aren't locked at every position.  We have flex in LF, 1B, DH AND the infield.  The only guys who have played well enough to earn the right to play their same position for a full season are F-Gut and Ichiro.
We're not locked.  We could theoretically eat Bradley's 12 mil just to get him off the roster and clear a spot, if that becomes necessary.  If a great LF is added, then we'll move Saunders back to the minors or trade him.  You HATE Saunders.  Why are you worried about making sure he gets 500 pro at bats next year?
If ONE move - to add a much better bat than we had - has both locked this sadly-underperforming roster AND made the 2011 team worse, then there's something very wrong with our priorities.

CA's picture

Over what amounts to a very minor deal, designed to manufacture some interest this year in a ball club that never was going to score runs enough to win (what Matt, 94?) this year.  If the philosophical mistake made by the org. is so earth-shattering regarding a "dead" team now, in your eyes, it perhaps should have been predicted as a very real possibility.  
Perhaps what we are seeing is an adjustment made between the very real (and larger impact) of players hitting, as opposed to some fairly well manufactured values of their fielding.  WAR doesn't account for its own phony inputs, IMO. 


If Branyan plays the full year at first base...and the Mariners are blocked at BOTH 1B and DH (because Saunders is now turning into a legit slugger for this team, so Bradley winds up doing most of the DHing)...or he gets hurt or is powerflushed in 2011, in which case we gained nothing of real value and lost Carrera for no good reason.  Neither scenario leaves us with any way to further improve the offense, G.  Bradley DHing, Branyan at first, Saunders in left, and we have no other way to add a bat anywhere else in the order.


So it really is Branyan alone who is destroying the offense in 2011 by being .300 OPS points better at his position than Kotchman?  300...that's like the difference between Carl Everett and Vintage Edgar.  And yet that's blowing our offensive potential to smithereens.
*scratches head*  I don't get it, man.  If you've determined all other positions are ossified and 1B is the only area for improvement (since you're stuffing Bradley as a full-time DH to get Saunders his time in the field as the obviously superior glove with HR power)...who is NOT gonna "destroy" the offense by ONLY being good and not spectacular?  Unless we trade for A-Gone and extend him immediately, I guess.
I do like that plan better, it's true...


My point, G, is not that Branyan destroys the offense. It's that Lopez, the catchers, the Wilsons, Saunders (even with his power showing up...he's still a flawed hitter)...they destroy the offense if you can't go out and get a DEEPLY impactful bat somewhere else. Branyan is not DEEPLY impactful...he's just another "nice" bat...of the same rough quality as Franklin Gutierrez, Jose Lopez when he's hitting normally (OK...he's more valuable than Lopez offensively, but Lopez is a plus plus fielder at a skill position), and Milton Bradley...that group cannot form the middle of an order. Not even with Branyan.

Taro's picture

We're already starting to see the problem with acquiring Branyan just a couple days later.
Tui is showing hes too good for AAA and there is no place to play him.
You're forced to trade Lopez now.


Is that in 2011, you need to add two (2) impact bats.
Where's the money for that?  Well, Branyan is one of them, so it's a lot easier.
First anti-Branyan argument I saw that I liked, was the one above "We want MORE than Branyan."
If realistic, sure.  And who says that November-December can't be used to investigate that, while still keeping your hooks into Branyan?

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