BY Art Thiel 08:56PM 07/31/2014

Thiel: Mariners owe thanks to A’s Billy Beane

A’s acquisition of Jon Lester Thursday forced Tigers to match by acquiring David Price, leavingthe Mariners a quality CF in Austin Jackson. A trade that might work.

Chris Denorfia can play all three outfield spots and will platoon in right field for the Mariners for now. / Wiki Commons

And the Mariners say: Thank you, Billy Beane.

The Oakland A’s general manager, who has made a tidy side career of bewildering the Mariners by outsmarting them with half the player payroll, did them a favor: He caused so much American League digestive tension with his win-now deal-making, that he made the Detroit Tigers burp up a quality player to the Mariners for a youngster with a dubious attitude and Seattle future.

Beane is smart enough to be general-managing two teams.

The availability and subsequent acquisition by Seattle of top-shelf CF Austin Jackson came as a surprise to most of baseball, including the Mariners, who were perhaps even more surprised that Jackson could be had for Nick Franklin, who in two trials with the Mariners proved he was too cocky for his own good at a position where Seattle had a relative bounty.

But the Tigers, eyes bulging after Beane Thursday morning traded with Boston to add star LHP Jon Lester to a pitching staff that was already running across the landscape with the fervor of Mongol hordes, felt a big urge to armor up for a potential post-season confrontation with the A’s.

They coveted Tampa Bay All-Star David Price, enough that the little-brother Mariners were brought in as the third dance partner. After a few “who, us?” blinks, the Mariners said, “Um, well, would you mind giving up your 27-year-old, right-handed leadoff hitter with a .277 career average who plays good defense, has been in 35 post-season games and has a year and a half left on his contract?”

Thursday morning the Tigers (58-46), with the biggest division lead in MLB, said yes.

The technical baseball term for the response is “whoop-de-damn-do!”

Jackson “really wasn’t on our radar four weeks ago or even last week,” Jeff Kingston, the Mariners assistant general manager, said in a call from Cleveland on AM 1090 The Fan. “It really came together in the last day. He was was a key part of World Series teams, and typically teams like that aren’t eager to move (starters). Rarely do you see a contender move a core player off the roster.

“We’d been talking to Tampa for weeks, and they held a lot of cards (in the MLB trade mart). When Detroit got involved, we were sort of a conduit for the Tigers. There was only one scenario for us — David Price.”

The Rays liked Franklin, who was borderline untouchable in his fast rise up the Seattle farm system, then became touchable after hitting .214 in 118 games over two Mariners seasons. Brad Miller and Chris Taylor leapfrogged over him, so he became surplus goods.

From Detroit, the Rays acquired LHP Drew Smyly and well-regarded minor league infielder Willy Adames. That was enough to send Price to the Tigers, who now have the past three AL Cy Young Award winners, along with Justin Verlander and Matt Scherzer.

Take that, Billy B.

Whatever duels the big boys have going, the Mariners are in a spitwad fight at the kids’ table with half the AL for the fifth and final playoff spot. The goal has been regarded dubiously in some quarters because losing the one-game play-in means sound and fury signifying almost nothing.

But however hollow the prize, and however lucky the Mariners were to catch a wave from the splash made by Beane, the fact is that they have solved via trade for three positions without touching their current roster or top prospects.

Kendrys Morales, acquired for injured relief pitcher Stephen Pryor, is the DH and Jackson is the the centerfielder and leadoff hitter. The third acquisition, Chris Denorfia, whom the Padres dealt Thursday morning in a separate deal for Seattle minor leaguers Abraham Almonte and Stephen Kohlscheen, can play any outfield position and will platoon mostly in right.

Jackson and Denorfia, 34, who hits .301 vs. lefties, will likely end the need for Endy Chavez and Stefen Romero, and have reasonable prospects to help provide that extra one run a game that for the Mariners has been unicorn-elusive.

The damage-free acquisitions were remarkable for an organization that takes a steady pounding (Adam Jones, Jason Varitek) for repeatedly giving away Manhattan for $24 in beads.

“Nick Franklin has drawn a lot of attention within the industry,” Kingston said. “Sometimes you have to give up good young players for help now. We want to win now,  and we also wanted to look into the future two, three, four years and hold on to your (quality) pieces, your core guys.

“Plus, it gives our guys a shot in the arm.”

Whether it helped in Thursday night’s 6-5 win over the Indians isn’t knowable. But the Mariners won the series, they won the trade deadline day merely by not getting pantsed, and they can claim with some legitimacy that they’re as good as anyone at the kids’ table.

To paraphrase from “Casablanca” they might say, “Thanks, Billy Beane, for doing the thinking for both of us.”


YourThoughts

  • Sam S

    I know the sports media loves to fawn over Billy Beane, almost like a kind of sports media mass hypnosis, but if Jack Z had made the trade Billy Beane made today the media would be ripping his head off and using it for a bowling ball. Jack Z deserves credit for keeping his cool, ignoring the slander fed to the gullible sports media by his rivals, and making the kind of solid baseball deals that winning teams make.

    • WestCoastBias79

      The sports media fawns over Billy Beane because he routinely wins the AL West with spare parts and has earned the right to be fawned over and respected. Jack Z turned Cliff Lee into Justin Smoak. The best thing he seems to have going for him is that he’s so intransigent that other teams don’t like trading with him, saving him from himself.

      • tedsfrozenhead

        “saving him from himself.”

        perfect

      • Trygvesture

        So right. (Maybe Sam is still working for the club?)

    • Trygvesture

      And we’ve had years and years of his winners to prove it.

    • art thiel

      But esults show Jack Z isn’t Billy Beane, so the whole evaluation is different. He has consistently outsmarted thee Mariners in talent evaluations, and kept the A’s more successful on the field than the Mariners.

      Long before the Fox story this week, I have written for years that the Mariners have been ditherers, rarely clear on goals or execution. Ownership can’t get its brain around the notion that they have an entertainment monopoly, not a competitive video-game manufacturing corporation.

      • RadioGuy

        Actually, I think they DO know they have an entertainment monopoly. Why else would they be so unmotivated to put a winning team on the field? They understand very well, in fact, that as much as fans complain, where else are those fans going to go for a ballgame?

        There are those of us who don’t need MLB to enjoy baseball (I’m taking the year off from Safeco and I’ve seen plenty of games elsewhere already), but the majority of people who follow the Mariners are convinced they’re the only game in town and won’t consider the alternatives. When you’ve got a market like that to sell to, winning matters a lot less because those folks will be back no matter the score.

        As I’ve said before, the Mariners are a Major League Baseball team operating with a minor league philosophy of selling the sizzle whether your on-field product is steak or ground beef (apologies to George Raveling).

        • Big

          The Mall experience at the Safe attracts many fans and families. The ball park is clean and generally free of rude and disruptive behavior. Baseball fans want a baseball team to be proud of, while many in attendance wantt to be entertained a la amusement park. Winning and a playoff run will put more fans in the seats. Tonight we may see 4 recently acquired ball players in the line up. SS, OF, DH

          • RadioGuy

            Agree with everything you say. Safeco IS a great place to watch a ballgame (even though I hate the roof…it’s like watching baseball in the Hollywood Bowl when it’s open) and the fan experience is generally positive, if overpriced. And I guess that was the point for both of us.

            The hardcores will always show up but all the TV revenue probably means a profit even if the M’s have a 60-102 season and Tampa Bay-level attendance. The bottom line is that while it’s great to see fannies in the stands, they’re not as needed as they used to be.

          • art thiel

            That’s increasingly true of all sports. TV revs much more important, but the fans have value to the franchise for home-field advantage (see Seahawks). I remember the Kingdome crowds in the mid-90s, and the Safeco crowds in the early 2000s. Properly impressed, I think the town will actually embrace baseball more intensely than football, if you can believe that.

        • art thiel

          I understand your point, but I look at it differently. When you have monopoly, you can take risks for baseball success and fail and know that your core business won’t be damaged. The Mariners have operated with annual bottom line priorities that don’t work for entertainment enterprises. They have valued the ballpark experience over wins, which is the entertainment.

          That changed some with the Cano signing. That was not a rational business decision, which is good for Mariners fans.

        • Kirkland

          Re: the baseball product, I think most Seattleites won’t pay attention to a team unless it’s at the highest level (pro or college). The minor-league Sounders drew flies, while the MLS Sounders smash attendance records; this website covers possible NBA expansion but not the very-much-present Storm; SU hoops is a blip on the radar next to the Huskies; and I’m certain an NHL team will draw many hockey fans who won’t give the T-Birds and Silvertips the time of day.

          Re: the stadium experience, it gets a LOT of sales from people for non-sports reasons. In my last office job, we were constantly ordering M’s tickets for visiting sales reps and employee recognition programs/events. A friend thinks baseball games are ideal for first dates; you’re witnessing an event, but there are plenty of breaks where you can chat with him/her (can’t do that during a movie), and you can eat without fear of looking sloppy (can’t do that at a nice restaurant). And then there are those events like Little League Day, Singles Night, Fireworks Night, and even last week’s “Stitch and Pitch”. That social atmosphere the other sports can’t offer, and that draws people even when the on-field product sucks.

  • tomscuba2004

    No way man,

    Choo, Ellsbury, Tanaka, Grandersen, – those were the 2013 impact players Jack didn’t overpay for. Michael Borne, Josh Hamilton (remember the disappointment), Greinke, BJ Upton, Victorino in 2012. Prince Fielder, Puhols, Reyes and Darvish (who everyone missed on) were the big names in 2011.

    Sure there are Beltran’s and Melky Cabrera’s in there too. But point is, Jacks done what he said he would, without strapping us with any albatross contracts, unless you consider Felix and Cano’s overbearing, which personally I don’t—but Cano’s can obviously be argued either way.

    Jack came in to a kitchen with an empty cupboard and I think last nights trades prove he’s got a vision, he’s got a plan that connects with that vision, and he’s got the eye and scouting department to make the moves, or lack of moves, to keep that ship sailing forward.

    Now, the Montero-Pineda deal turned out to be a wash, and Smoak sure didn’t turn into what he projected. Still, we’re not stuck with Swisher or Bourne’s paycheck and have a nice, young group of bats coming together to make a wild card run. That’s the way it was drawn up.

    Hey man, I’m tired of waiting like the rest of us—crap, it seems like an eternity between now and the 116 win thrillfest of yore.

    But we’re in a good place as an organization right now, and other whining GM’s can kiss our bohunk. I think Jack should get an extension after this year, and I think all things considering he did a helluva job at the trade deadline.

    We’ll see. Walker blows out his arm like Hultzen that perception changes. But as of now, I like where we are, for the first time in 5-6-7 years.

    • art thiel

      You bring up the pursuit of Hamilton. That alone torpedoes your argument. The M’s had no business making a huge offer on such a brittle, vulnerable player. Foolishness at its acme. But that’s what happens when you’re perpetually desperate. And Jack now has some responsibility for that state.

    • Effzee

      hogwash.

      “he did a helluva job at the trade deadline” – necessitated of course by the fact that the team he assembled for 2014 was the offensive equivalent to each of the previous offensively offensive offenses that he brought us. spit-shining your own pile of crap is not exactly the kind of thing that should earn an extension.

      however, this being Lincolnland, i am sure that maintaining a facade of competitiveness will bring in juuuust enough fans to turn juuuust enough profit for Howie to be able to juuuuuust barely justify retaining his current yes-yokel.

      • Jack Itch

        WORD, baby! (Do people still say that?) There isn’t enough lipstick in Revlonville to make this pig attract anything but flies. Geez, they’re even trotting out Piniella again, and handing out Lou bobbleheads! Can this franchise be any more bereft of a single constructive idea or plan? It’s the same old, same old, and nothing changes til the team is sold to a *real* baseball owner.

  • Trygvesture

    Great piece, Art. That the M’s didn’t wrangle this, that it happened at the last minute and to their surprise– and in spite of Z and his generally poorly perceived capabilities around MLB… well, fate sometimes isn’t explainable; good things aren’t always the product of smarts and competence. But, some instill thier sports demigods with unassailable greatness, still, and seem to be threatened, angered and outraged that their divinity should be questioned. Weird. Thanks for keeping the curtain pulled back.

    • art thiel

      It’s often been said that it’d better to be lucky than good, and the M’s got lucky. Good for them. Jack’s entitled to have his defenders; and he’s had more than his share of bad luck (Franklin Gutierrez, the spotty health to date of the Big 3). And he’s working for a difficult owner in Howard Lincoln. But there’s still Josh Lueke and the big trades that did little. The record speaks.

      • El Caramba

        Surely you jest. Of what record are you speaking, exactly? Jack is as incompetent as the clown who preceded him, who was also hand-picked by the same dumbass bobbleheads.

      • Kirkland

        Jack’s certainly better than Bavasi, but is he better than wildly inconsistent Woodward, never mind Gillick? (I’ll be nice and disregard Kingdome-era GMs Gorman and Balderston; they had absolutely nothing to work with.)

  • Steven

    Even Dave Cameron of Fangraphs (formerly USS Mariner), who’s been about as critical of the Mariners front office as anyone for the last decade, had to offer them some backhanded praise in his description of how the Mariners improved their odds:

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-change-in-postseason-odds-from-yesterday/

    “Seattle Mariners: +9.4%
    Few people are probably going to proclaim the Mariners winners of the trade deadline, but no one improved their chances of reaching the postseason more than Seattle. By both beating the Indians and by replacing a pair of replacement level outfielders with actual useful players, the team improved it’s place in the standings and it’s talent base at the same time. One could argue that it’s not going to be enough — after all, even a 27% chance of winning the second Wild Card isn’t really great odds — but the Mariners made the kinds of moves that a bubble second Wild Card team should make. They gave themselves a chance to win this year without harming their future, or at least, harming it any more than they did when they signed Robinson Cano to block Nick Franklin.”

  • jafabian

    I’m not sure if these are deals to help propel the M’s into the playoffs or build for the future. I’d think Jack would want to get into the playoffs now considering his contract situation. Wish he could have tossed in Smoak or Montero with Franklin. Neither of them can fill in at 1B it seems and Morrison isn’t the answer either. Assuming Jones will open next season on the team the M’s will field an OF that can cover some ground. Haven’t seen that since the Winn/Cameron/Ichiro days. I’m wondering if the M’s could have gotten more from someone if they did?

    Very nice send off the Tigers fans gave Jackson. Right in the middle of a game when you’re not expecting it can be hard, especially the first time you’re traded. Jose Cruz Jr. comes to mind.

    • art thiel

      I suspect Jack will claim it helps now and for the near future, which is the ideal. I can’t argue.

      • Da Kid

        isn’t that what he always says? How’s that worked out in the last six years?

        • Trygvesture

          He does keep to the Lincolnland script– for years and years now…

  • notaboomer

    so a cleanup hitter named yoenis cespedes was available and the Ms didn’t get him. that’s what they need not another singles hitter. i’m already sick of hearing the spin that no impact hitters were available.

    • jafabian

      I highly doubt the A’s would trade within division to a team they might face in the playoffs. You could argue the M’s could do a 3 way deal without letting Oakland know about it but no team would do that and I’m sure MLB has rules against it.

      • notaboomer

        the athletics don’t face Ms in playoffs b/c Ms rarely make playoffs. they face redsox and that’s where they sent cespedes. but Ms probably would have had to deal iwakuma to get cespedes and should have if they want to win.

        • Trygvesture

          Right, of course, but
          Can you imagine the pure excitement of having a hitter like that? An outfielder who can throw like Bo could? Imagine.
          Imagine is, here, all we can do, of course — that kind of guy ain’t happening here in Lincolnland.
          Can we trade EVERYBODY for Billy B? Including the ultra-pathetic wingnut marketing schlub who– with no mercy for us outside the brick palace– toes the company line and keeps digging into the now ancient past for the pure-blech Honor the Old-Guys nights and Chris Bosio/Joey Cora/Whoever Else is Left bobblehead events? Please? Can we?