The Summary: The Mariners are still best known for being an arm-destroying machine at the start of the decade, but let’s be kind and say they learned from the experience. Overall, the last half of the decade has been a good one for the team medically, and the ascension of general manager Jack Zduriencik is only going to help that. Zduriencik once had his scouts attend the Brewers‘ medical symposium to help improve their results in the draft. Rick Griffin’s staff has been pinged in the past for pitching, but they’ve been relatively successful with Felix Hernandez. If there’s any worry, though, it’s Hernandez. He’s racked up an innings total at age-23 that recalls not only the likes of Steve Avery and Gary Nolan, but also that of Jeremy Bonderman. With Bonderman and Hernandez, both teams have done everything in the book of baseball’s best practices, but young, high-workload pitchers are inherently unstable. The M’s have already shown themselves willing to at least consider dealing Hernandez, but then they signed him long-term. Zduriencik isn’t scared of risk, but this deal, more than anything else he’s done yet, could define this era for the M’s.
Days Lost: 1,073
Dollars Lost: $20,047,336.96
Injury Cost: $14,439,305.56
The Cost: Over the last three years, the Mariners have lost $32.1 million due to injuries. That number is heavily inflated by the $20.1-million cost Seattle had due to injuries last year. That is a high number considering the average cost for MLB teams was nearly $14 million. Seattle and Zduriencik have had one of the best offseasons in baseball, and it could have been even better if they could have retained some of the money from last year. Seattle could have used that savings to upgrade at first base and left field, where they have decided to employ some combination of Casey Kotchman and Ryan Garko at first and Milton Bradley (who himself provides quite an injury risk, as you’ll see below) in left.
The Big Risk: At the start of the offseason, there were whispers that teams were talking about going after Hernandez. It’s no surprise that the Red Sox, Yankees, and Angels all made runs at the young ace, but when the Mariners didn’t just wave those suitors away, some wondered if the M’s had decided they couldn’t meet Hernandez’s demands for a long-term deal or if they were wondering about his long-term health. The new deal tells us that the team has some level of comfort and confidence in Hernandez. Five years for any pitcher is a major stretch, but Hernandez has been relatively healthy despite high and increasing workloads while still under the injury nexus. Baseball Reference has age comps of guys like Catfish Hunter, Avery, and Nolan, which reminds you of both the short-term upside and long-term risk. The contract just given to Hernandez will be a great deal if he’s more like Hunter and a terrible one if he’s more like Avery. For me, I see Carlos Zambrano, which points to the age issue throughout baseball. Zambrano’s deal is already looking like a bad one for the Cubs‘ collection, but if he’d signed a Hernandez-type deal at age-23, you’d have gladly taken the next five years at that price. Big risk? Sure, but one that the Mariners seem to have a handle on.
The Comeback: Bradley’s issues have often been physical, but those are often hidden under the layers upon layers of bad press he gets for his… well, let’s just call it “temper” for lack of a better term. There’s a disconnect between the public perception of Bradley and the one you’ll hear from people that have been around him. Even last year, when everything that could go wrong did (and Bradley certainly didn’t help himself any), his Cubs teammates didn’t have much bad to say about him. The Rangers wanted him back, and while it did take a while to deal him out of Chicago, that was largely the fact that every team was looking for a steep discount, knowing the Cubs had to deal him. Bradley will need to avoid the physical issues that often plague him, while a familiar face in Don Wakamatsu should help him avoid some of the other problems.
The Trend: Athletic trainers used to be virtually locked in at the major-league level. Once there, you could count on seeing them for decades. These days, that’s gone and results count. Given that Griffin was in place at the height of the Geaer Grimsrud era. As the pitchers were having their arms inserted in the Mariners’ version of a woodchipper, Griffin wasn’t fired. Pitching coaches were. General managers and field managers were. Griffin, no. Given multiple new bosses, it says something that he’s still there and that the injury stats are trending slightly upward over the full decade of data we have. While there’s some evidence that picking better players is the reason for the change, as well as a grass field helping with knees and backs, the guys with the best info have kept this medical staff intact.
C Rob Johnson: In a market filled with weird catcher signings, the M’s didn’t get involved. This is a bit strange, considering Johnson is likely to start the year on the DL. He had four surgeries this offseason, including three on his hip. I hope I don’t have to explain how bad that is for a catcher. Behind him? Not much, with Adam Moore and… well, that’s it. I’m not saying they should have gone after Jason Kendall or even Gregg Zaun, but finding someone like Eli Whiteside, now superfluous in San Francisco, would be your typical Jack Z “Zmart move TM.”
SS Jack Wilson: Wilson is barely into the red zone, so while he is a risky player, some of that has been the fact that the Pirates were never in that big of a rush to get him back. The Pirates also have a great record of getting rid of risk. If you look at the players they’ve dealt away under the current regime, one of the recurring themes is offloading risk and hoarding upside, even limited upside when combined with lower risk. Wilson’s probably a 120-game guy at most at this stage, but Seattle realizes this and has flexibility behind him with Jack Hannahan and Chone Figgins.
LF Milton Bradley: See The Comeback.
DH Ken Griffey Jr.: Junior is a bit entwined with Bradley in that the more Bradley plays in the field, the more likely his leg issues are to recur. If Griffey is really there as a player and not a shout-out to his glory years, he’ll get about half of the DH chances. PIPP is projecting this red based on full-time play, which even at DH is risky.
3B Chone Figgins: Figgins played a full season in ’09, his first since ’06. So is that a fluke, or is he “healthy” now? The M’s are betting on the latter, which is a bit iffy for a 32-year-old speed player. The first-season health of his legs are key to the overall value of this four-year deal.
SP Felix Hernandez: Hernandez’s mechanics are still not ideal. The head kicking to the side might be somewhat reduced, but what I notice is that despite a run of new pitching coaches, Hernandez has been remarkably consistent. While no one really knows the joint loads he’s creating, it’s possible that consistently “bad” is something the body can adjust for in some cases.
SP Ryan Rowland-Smith
SP Ian Snell: Snell essentially refused to go back to Pittsburgh. While I like Indianapolis, too, it was hard to stomach a guy with his arm being willing to throw it all away. The Mariners rescued him in a challenge trade, and he’s still got something. If nothing else, he can eat innings, something the Mariners really need right now.
SP Luke French: French is risky if he holds the slot, but there are options and the hope that Erik Bedard-who would be a glowing, nuclear red here if rated-will take over by summer. No one really expects French to put up the 150 innings or more that would really up the risk factor.
1B Casey Kotchman
2B Jose Lopez
SP Cliff Lee