December 7, 2006
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) -- The Atlanta Braves swapped a starting pitcher for bullpen help Thursday, sending oft-injured lefty Horacio Ramirez to the Seattle Mariners for reliever Rafael Soriano.
December 13, 2006
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Second baseman Jose Vidro would be sent to the Seattle Mariners by the Washington Nationals for two prospects in a tentative trade that is pending physicals for all players involved, a person with knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press on Wednesday night.
If you follow the Mariners at all (hi, Greg) you know that the trades listed above were widely reviled in the online Mariner fan community. The problem wasn't so much that they were terribly lopsided trades (they were), but that these trades revealed a fundamental difference between the business philosophy of Mariner management and that of sane people.
In the Mariners' division, the American League West, is a baseball team called the Oakland Athletics. Since 2000, the Athletics have finished first, second, first, first, second, second, and first in their division, and made the playoffs five out of seven seasons. In every one of these seasons they had a payroll that was roughly half that of the Seattle Mariners, and in the bottom half of payrolls across baseball. The Mariners, after making the playoffs in 2000 and 2001, have finished second, second, fourth, fourth, and fourth in the division. In business speak (and I am paraphrasing the words of another Mariner blogger), the Mariners have a competitor who year after year puts out a (frequently vastly) superior product at half the cost.
The way that the Athletics do this is a mystery to absolutely no one. Michael Lewis wrote a very popular book about it. This book rubbed a lot of people in baseball the wrong way because, in short, they thought it threatened their jobs. The baseball blog linked above is an excellent analysis of Moneyball as it relates to the Mariners vis-à-vis the Athletics, so I won't do that here.
If some things go right for the Mariners this season--if Felix Hernandez develops into an ace, Raul Ibañez keeps hitting, Adrian Beltré hits a little more, and the bullpen isn't quite as terrible as it looks like it might be--the Mariners could contend for a division title. However, if pretty much any one of those things doesn't happen or any starter gets injured, the Mariners are looking at finishing fourth out of four for the fourth year in a row. The problem with that is that the M's are sporting a payroll of $111 million, which is third highest in baseball behind the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox (both of whom, while prognosticators are universally picking the M's to finish last in their division, are expected to make the playoffs). What the Mariners did this offseason was to trade away young, cheap, actually or potentially good players for old, expensive, mediocre veterans who were once good (well, Horacio Ramirez was never good, so I don't know what they were thinking there). The Mariners have the third highest payroll in baseball and they're going to break camp with Rey Ordoñez on their roster, a player who's been out of baseball for two years, and proved over the course of over 3000 at bats that he simply can't hit Major League pitching. $111 million dollars ought to buy one hell of a baseball team, but the Mariners have taken it and bought a baseball team that will have to be lucky not to finish last in their division.
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