Seattle Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto said the following when I spoke to him in November:
“The best we can do is lay out a game plan, a quality game plan, and then track our success. In this game, everything can be tracked.”
That includes trades, and it’s no secret that Dipoto has made a lot of them since he was hired to replace Jack Zduriencik following the 2015 season. The exact number — this based on a perusal of transaction logs — is a whopping 106, which works out to more than two dozen annually. The subject broached, Dipoto acknowledged that “it’s a long spreadsheet.”
What does the spreadsheet show in terms of wins and losses? The plethora of deals precludes a detailed response to such a question, but the 51-year-old executive did provide an overview when asked.
“I would say it’s been about break even for major-league productivity,” opined Dipoto. “The James Paxton deal from a year ago, or even the Robinson Cano–Edwin Diaz deal with the Mets. We don’t truly know how those are going to work out yet. On the surface we’ve lost them, because they’re producing less WAR value for us than they are for our trade partners, but we believe that will change over time. That’s the nuance of doing baseball trades.
It is known that the Mariners contended, only to fall short, following Dipoto’s earlier moves. Seattle was ten games over .500 in 2016, and after falling back a year later they went 89-73 in 2018. The strategy was different then.
“Many of the deals we did early on were geared in the opposite direction from where we’ve been the past year or so,” explained Dipoto. “We traded young players from our minor-league system to achieve major-league WAR value. Effectively, we were doing a lot of our free-agent shopping, or need-filling, by trading for players ready to play in the big leagues. With a core group of Kyle Seager, Felix Hernandez, Nelson Cruz, Robbie Cano… between the four they were making about 75-80 million dollars. We had to find a way to augment them while we were in a competitive window.”
That window having since closed, what can we expect as the Mariners segue into phase two of their rebuild? Will baseball’s most-trade-happy executive continue to aggressively add names to the aforementioned spreadsheet, or is his transaction frenzy on hiatus?
“Going forward, I expect that we’ll be making fewer trades,” Dipoto informed me. “We’re in a different growth pattern now. It’s about letting the young guys play.”
How many different types of sliders are there? That depends on who you ask, in part because pitch-labeling is often subjective. Terms like “slurve” and “slutter” exist for a reason. But are they actual pitch types? If not, is the latter a slider that moves more like a cutter, or is it a cutter that’s similar to a slider? You get the picture.
Semantics aside, I posed the “How many?” question to Texas Rangers pitching coach Julio Rengel during the 2019 season.
“You could probably say there are a lot of them,” responded Rangel. “Every pitcher has his own variation, so it’s pretty hard to pinpoint and say something like, ‘There are three types of sliders.’ That said, there are sliders that have more depth than others. There are some — especially ones you see from the left side — that are more sweepy. Those are just two examples.”
Given his druthers, Rangel would prefer to see downward tilt, with a decent dose of velocity. He’s also of the opinion that not all pitching roles are created equal when it comes to movement profiles.
“For me, it’s a pitch that usually has to be hard, and have some depth to it,” said Rangel. “Especially as a starter. If you’re a reliever you can get away with more of a sweeping one, but as a starter you want something with a little depth. Either way, the goal with most every pitch is to make it look as close to a fastball as you can, for as long as you can. That’s what makes it tough on a hitter. You want your slider to look like a fastball all the way, until it’s not fastball.”
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
When I first talked to Abraham Toro, he was 20 years old and playing two positions with the short-season Tri-City ValleyCats in his first full professional season. Primarily a third baseman, Houston’s 2016 fifth-rounder was also seeing time behind the plate. His catching experience was scant — “Maybe just a couple of games in high school” — but in the eyes of the Astros, versatility could only help Toro’s chances of reaching the big leagues.
He got there last August, albeit with a “use only in case of emergency” tag stapled figuratively to his catcher’s mitt. His bat is what brought him to Houston. The now 23-year-old switch-hitter was called up after slashing .324/.411/.527, with 17 home runs, between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Round Rock. He hasn’t donned the tools of ignorance in a game since the summer we spoke.
According to Jeff Luhnow, Toro could conceivably do so in the future. In September, the Astros president of baseball operations asked A.J. Hinch who the team’s emergency catcher was, and the answer he got was “Toro.”
Luhnow is predictably bullish about the younger’s bat — “He started to show up on our radar as an offensive player a couple of years ago” — and just as importantly, he’s pleased with his defense at the hot corner. Moreover, Toro’s ability to play multiple infield positions, and catch in a pinch, makes him a good fit going forward — especially with MLB instituting a 26-man roster for the 2020 season. Luhnow pointed to just that when asked about the multi-lingual Longueuil, Quebec native’s chances of breaking camp with the defending A.L. champs.
“Oh yeah; he’s got a shot,” answered Luhnow. “His handedness, his versatility.… everything about him. Going to 26, he’s a perfect guy for a spot on the roster. He’s got to earn it, but I expect that he’ll spend a decent amount of time at the big-league level.”
Jack Santora has been named manager of Anaheim’s California League affiliate, the Inland Empire 66ers. Santora has been coaching and managing in the Angels system since 2017, most recently in Orem.
Chris Denorfia has been hired to manage Colorado’s Eastern League affiliate, the Hartford Yard Goats. The 39-year-old Wheaton College product played for five teams from 2005-2015, primarily the San Diego Padres.
Reid Brignac has been hired to manage the Mets’ South Atlantic League affiliate, the Columbia Fireflies. The 33-year-old former infielder played for six teams from 2008-2016, primarily the Tampa Bay Rays.
Jordan Rassmann, who has been working as Director of Analytics and R&D at the Florida Baseball Ranch, has been hired as an analyst by the Washington Nationals.
Yuma Mune is slashing .387/.457/.538, in 105 plate appearances, with the Australian League’s Melbourne Aces. The 23-year-old infielder has spent the last four seasons with NPB’s Orix Buffaloes.
Hal Smith died earlier this week — he was 89 — and his passing merits more than a mere mention in News Items. A backup catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, he hit what is probably the most-overshadowed home run in postseason history. One inning after Smith went yard in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, Bill Mazeroski famously walked off the Yankees with a blast of his own.
Smith, who had entered the game when Smoky Burgess was pinch-run for in the seventh, came to the plate with two on and two out in the bottom of the eighth, Pittsburgh trailing by a run. He proceeded to propel a pitch — on a two-strike count, no less — from New York right-hander Jim Coates over the left field wall at Forbes Field. The Pirates led 9-7.
As history recalls, the Yankees subsequently tied the game in the top of the ninth, setting up Mazeroski’s heroics. Were it not for a defensive replacement who hit 58 regular-season home runs over a 10-year career, Mazeroski’s moment never happens. R.I.P. Hal Smith.
Data and technology are at the forefront of player development in today’s game, and the Cincinnati Reds aren’t taking a back seat to anyone. That’s particularly true with pitching. Kyle Boddy and Caleb Cotham — to name just two — have been brought on board for a reason.
I broached the subject when I spoke to the club’s president of baseball operations during November’s GM Meetings. His response was that of someone in tune with the times.
“Change is happening exponentially faster than ever before, so you have to be able to understand new technologies,” Dick Williams told me. “Most importantly, you have to explain to a player how that feedback loop is going to work, and how it’s going to improve their performance.
“Trying something new, we have much-improved ability to measure exactly the changes a pitcher is making, and exactly what is happening with the ball as a result. If he wants to try getting on the side of the ball a little more, we can see exactly how much he’s getting on the side of the ball, and exactly what effect that is having on spin. Rather than spending a month or two trying something new, we may be able to determine if that that change works in one or two sessions.”
Michael Broskowski is the new play-by-play voice of the Midwest League’s Clinton LumberKings. Broskowski’s broadcast experience includes stints with the Burlington Bees and Orem Owlz.
Matt Dean is the new play-by-play voice of the Carolina League’s Fayetteville Woodpeckers. Dean spent last season with the Charleston River Dogs, who have hired Jason Kempf in his stead. Kempf had been calling games for the Quad Cities River Bandits.
Alex Feuz is the new play-by-play voice of the Appalachian League’s Burlington Royals. Feuz called games in the New England Collegiate Baseball League last year.
The 6.4 magnitude earthquake that shook Puerto Rico in the predawn hours on Tuesday was a rude wakeup call for everyone on the island. Ryan O’Rourke was among those who felt the tremors. The 31-year-old southpaw recounted how he had to brace himself, as his bed was “moving rather violently for a few seconds.”
Power was down, and as you might expect, the Puerto Rican Winter League was put on hold for a few days. O’Rourke’s team, Cangrejeros de Santurce, had a pair of games postponed, delaying their advancement to the championship series. That ticket was punched on Thursday night, when the Jose Valentin-managed club completed a four-game sweep of Atenienses de Manati.
The finals are scheduled to begin on Tuesday — the winner moving on to the Caribbean World Series beginning February 1st — but those will likely be delayed as well. On Friday evening the island experienced two more quakes, the first a 5.2 magnitude, the second a 4.8. As a result, yesterday’s game between Indios de Mayaguez and Gigantes de Carolina — the series tied two piece — was postponed.
Where O’Rourke lands once his winter ball campaign is finally over remains to be seen. The Merrimack College graduate — a front office position possibly looming in his future — has 56 big-league relief appearances on his resume, two of which came last year with the New York Mets.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
At The San Francisco Chronicle, Henry Schulman wrote about how Garrett Broshuis went from pitching prospect to lead attorney in a lawsuit that aims to force MLB organizations to pay minor-leaguers a living wage.
Baseball Digest’s Zach Spedden took a look at the five ballparks that will be opening this year. One of them is in Texas, the other four are down on the farm.
Dan Dickerson doesn’t feel the deep dive into juiced baseballs dove far enough. The radio voice of the Detroit Tigers shared his reasons why at Bless You Boys.
At Tiger Tales, Lee Panas ranked the top 40 starting pitchers in Detroit Tigers franchise history. He included an explanatory blurbs for each.
In November, Rachel Balkovec became the first woman to be hired as a full-time minor league hitting coach for a professional baseball team. Nicole Brodeur wrote about her for The Seattle Times.
Over at Yahoo Sports, Hannah Keyser wrote about how baseball may change in the 2020s.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Cavan Biggio had 430 plate appearances last year and didn’t ground into a double play. The rookie infielder was a perfect 14 for 14 in stolen base attempts.
Cleveland Indians third baseman Jose Ramirez is 58 for 68 in stolen base attempts over the past two seasons. He grounded into 10 double plays over that stretch.
San Diego Padres third baseman Manny Machado has grounded into 50 double plays over the past two seasons, the most of any player.
The Tigers acquired Mickey Tettleton from the Orioles in exchange for Jeff Robinson on January 11, 1991. Robinson was released by Baltimore the following November. Tettleton played four seasons in Detroit, where he logged 112 home runs and a .387 OBP.
Hall of Fame pitcher Kid Nichols had a 1.75 ERA over 438 innings for the Western League’s Omaha Omahogs in 1889.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.