Continuing from Part I…
BP: Freddy Garcia was coming off a down year, but you chose to bring him back at a considerable salary. What was behind that decision? What will it take for him to back to where he once was?
Bavasi: How will it happen? Greater focus on his part, and more focused instruction working with the pitching coach. This is a young guy who’s a good pitcher who’s had good years and only had one down year. His stuff is good, his strength is good, physically he’s fine. There’s no reason he can’t come back and be better than he was last year. How much better is open to discussion.
Our approach to him in the off-season–considering him as a possible non-tender–as we went through that decision, thinking about throwing him into the pile of non-tendered players, we would have his salary to spend. Having analyzed potential players in the group of remaining free agents and potential non-tenders, if you threw all those guys together and threw Garcia in that pile, the best guy in there was going to be Freddy Garcia. Once Lee made the deal with his agent, to bring him back at the same salary, it was a no-brainer.
BP: But you could have, say, taken the $7 million or so, chosen not to spend on some of the smaller signings that you made, and signed a Guerrero, or Pudge, or Greg Maddux, couldn’t you?
Bavasi: We felt we could consider that and go with a young guy (in the rotation), but a Rodriguez or Guerrero, they’re not coming here for $7 million; we’d already signed Raul and Scott, and Aurilia and Guillen were similar money. As for a Greg Maddux, we would prefer Freddy. We feel he hit a speed bump last year, he’s still on the rise, and we think he’ll get better. Bryan Price and Bob Melvin know what they have in this guy.
Bavasi: Carlos is a good player. He’s a good player that’s operated with some bad luck health-wise. At-bat per at-bat, his numbers compared favorably with Aurilia’s. We felt with Aurilia–and there’s some crossing of fingers on this–but we felt he was more consistent health-wise and thus more consistent production-wise in his career. With Carlos we would have a quality shortstop, and we would have to spend a good amount of money to get a good backup. We still felt we had to get a good backup for Aurilia, so we brought in Ramon Santiago as a quality, affordable backup, and added another player to the farm system in Juan Gonzalez.
BP: What was behind the decision to try to trade for Omar Vizquel?
Bavasi: We had good rationale for very aspect of the Vizquel developments in the off-season. To comment further could be considered tampering.
BP: There have been different reports about the money the Mariners recouped from Kaz Sasaki going back to Japan. What’s the status of that situation, and are the Mariners actively looking to acquire players with that money?
Bavasi: He is off the books; there were significant savings and financial resources that have become available. It’s not quite the amount people think it is–the most accurate characterization was in the article Larry LaRue did in the Tacoma paper. But it does create financial resources that we can use to improve the club. We will do that, but we won’t spend the money just to spend it. We’ll pursue the right kind of player, not sign someone just to sign him.
We pursued Ellis Burks pretty hard. We felt we needed someone off the bench to protect Edgar Martinez, Olerud, and the outfielders. We wanted a veteran used to coming off the bench and performing at a high level while providing leadership. We went after him real hard, but his wife’s family is from Connecticut, and that helped lead to him signing with the Red Sox. Right now we are in a mode to improve the club; if we can find the right deal, we have the flexibility to do something.
BP: If you don’t sign or trade for anyone in the off-season, and the Mariners are still in contention near the trade deadline, would you look to acquire a player then with the savings?
Bavasi: Even if Sasaki had stayed, we had prepared ourselves budget-wise to have flexibility at the deadline.
BP: Do you see Rafael Soriano‘s value being higher in the bullpen or in the rotation?
Bavasi: A lot of mistakes are made developing players to enhance their value, instead of the value they bring to your ballclub. Specifically with Soriano, he’ll end up in a role advantageous to us, and it looks like that will be more in a set-up type role. That’s not to say in the future he couldn’t start, or close, but right now he’ll set up for us. At this point of his career, we could throw him in a starting role. But when you get to the big leagues, and you have some impact in a certain role–in this case as a middle and set-up guy–when you go away from that, I’m not sure how easy that is. The other question is whether it’s harder to make the transition toward starting a game, or toward the end of the game, where you face all the pressures of being a closer. We do think he has enough versatility, talent and power to fill the role that needs to be filled. At our minor league and major league levels, there are some guys that can step in and start, but not many that can step in be a power set-up guy or a closer.
BP: How will you determine his role long-term?
Bavasi: It will depend more on the composition of the major league roster. Moyer, Garcia, Pineiro, Meche and Franklin have done the job as starters, so everyone else is going to fit into another role, until we need another starter. Last year Soriano didn’t make the club out of spring training. When he got called up, he was so dominant in the role given to him, and the five starters would never miss a start, so it made sense to keep him where he was, and we’ll continue to do so this season.
BP: What role does statistical analysis play in the Mariners organization?
Bavasi: In general, statistical analysis plays a tremendous role at the major league level. Our feeling is you can have a tremendous emphasis there because we don’t have a higher league. When you get to Triple-A and start working your way down through to the amateur ranks, you have to adjust the impact stats have in favor of subjective projection.
Bavasi: It’s a special case. We had a real good inkling that he would not accept the arbitration, that we would do a deal in plenty of time to be avoiding any arbitration issues. Sometimes if you have a special relationship with a player, things like that are done to extend the window in which you can talk to the player. A lot of business goes on in the off-season, and often you can’t get everything done quickly enough. We feel he can contribute to a winning ballclub in 2004, probably more so as insurance in Triple-A, but also in the future, whether as a manager or coach.
BP: How much of a difference does it make to a team to have a lot of veteran character guys? How many of those guys do you need?
Bavasi: Experience and character are important in a sport that requires brains as well as brawn. Certainly, there needs to be young players included on every good club. Experience and character come with age–unfortunately so can diminishing durability.
BP: The Mariners have had not only good success on the field with some of the Asian players they’ve acquired, but also off the field in terms of marketing and other revenue-generating activities. Was there a mandate given to you to continue pushing that pipeline?
Bavasi: Not all, there was nothing said about Asian players. They want to get players where they can get him, the best players possible. We’re not going to devote resources to a player because he’s from a particular country just because he has some marketing possibility. (Ownership) wants to be playoff bound, hopefully World Series bound–they’re really dead set on that. We want to market to the fans, and obviously the greatest way to do that is by winning.
BP: Mariner ownership and management has talked in the past about wanting to be “competitive” every year. How do you respond to the oft-repeated claim that their goal is to “compete” every year?
Bavasi: I don’t know if everybody’s got the same definition in mind. Maybe the intention is to be competitive in a bad year, but the expectation is to get to postseason, and then take that a step further and get to the final game. I can only speak for this organization, and my take is that’s the least they expect every year. This is an organization that expects to be much more than competitive. Baseball’s like any other team sport–it’s not bowling or golf, since you’re playing against somebody. Our expectations are affected by everybody else’s expectations, and by their performance. This club will always payroll itself and approach the off-season with an eye to winning.
BP: How active is Howard Lincoln in decisions to pursue or pass on players?
Bavasi: He is active in player personnel decisions to the exact degree any good CEO oversees his company’s multi-million dollar decisions effecting production. He is involved but does not impede the judgment of his experts. He is always supportive and only demands rational thought and care in how we build the major league roster.
BP: Going into camp, what are your greatest sources of concern for the club?
Bavasi: Thirty clubs have health as their number-one concern. Nobody feels they are deep enough. Beyond that, we’d like to add some offense. The position would not be as important as would be experience and good offensive capability.
Thanks to the BP staff, especially Derek Zumsteg, for their help in compiling questions for this interview.