Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Bill Bavasi years

By Kshell

I was searching through facebook tonight and stumbled upon a blog post that I had written on the Seattle Mariners fan application back in May of 2008. I have been debating on if I should just repost on here and after debating with myself I decided I will do that. Now this is all old news I'm aware and some of it applies to today. Now keep in mind this was from two years ago I would like to think I have grown as a writer in that time span. I'll add a thing at the bottom to update it. So here is my article from two years ago in May of 2008 titled "The Bavasi years".

I'm here to discuss the real root of the Mariners problem in 2008 and how it has plagued this franchise since 2004. That problem is, of course, General Manager Bill Bavasi, who took over the franchise before the 2004 season.

Before we discuss what happened while Bavasi was here, we have to look at the team he inherited. He had an older roster that had just produced four straight seasons of 90-plus wins. However, the team didn't make the playoffs the previous two seasons despite winning 93 games in each season. Hitting was blamed for missing the playoffs the previous two seasons so that’s what Bavasi's first concentration was going into his first off-season as the Mariners General Manager.

Bavasi, in his first off-season, made some terrible mistakes underestimating the importance of defense. First up, the Mariners decided they were tired of centerfielder Mike Cameron and his constant strikeouts. Despite Cameron’s Gold Glove they figured since Randy Winn had played centerfield that Cameron was expendable so he was let go. Cameron was replaced with Raul Ibanez who had torched the Mariners ever since the M's let him go after the 2000 season. Ibanez took left field and Winn moved to center.

Bavasi’s next move was to improve third base since Jeff Cirillo had worn out his welcome as a Mariner, so he signed a guy who was a big part of the Los Angeles Angels World Series championship team just two years earlier – Scott Spiezo. Spiezo received a three-year/$9-million deal. It wasn't just the money that raised eyebrows, it was the number of years since Spiezo was 31 years old at the time.

Then it was decided to trade Carlos Guillen as it was determined that Guillen wasn't working out in Seattle. Bavasi wanted more pop in our lineup so he signed Rich Aurillia. His fourth move was to give Eddie Guaradado a four-year/$16-million deal despite Guaradado being 33 years old at the time.

The results of these moves and other circumstances that he had no control over proved costly. First of all, all nine regular starters that the Mariners counted on were over the age of 30. Second, the team’s closing pitcher Kaz Sasaki decided to retired, but by doing so the Mariners got an extra $8 million to spend on possibly Ivan Rodriguez. However, the team chose not to sign the catcher as they had Dan Wilson and Ben Davis. Lastly, the team also chose not to sign Vlad Guerrero for $14 million a season despite him being the caliber of player who would normally sign for $20 million. To top it all off, this big bat would sign with the division rival Angels.

The results of his first year were disastrous. Instead of winning over 90 games, the team lost 99 games. The pitching staff, who had set a record the previous season as the only team to have all five guys start every game, was blown up. This was due in part to overachieving the year before and part because the outfield defense simply wasn't that good. In 2003, the core team of Winn/Cameron/Ichiro bought the Mariners four extra wins. Whereas in 2004, you saw Jamie Moyer’s ERA raise from 3.27 to 5.21, Franklin went from 3.57 to 4.90 and Shiggy rose from 1.48 to 5.16.

The results of the four guys he signed were mixed. Ibanez got hurt while still managing to produce good numbers in batting .302, 16 bombs and 62 RBIs but still didn’t meet expectations. Aurillia was a total disaster and was cut by June. His numbers were .241, 4 bombs and 28 RBIs while Carlos Guillen made the all-star team (he repeated his appearance in 2007). Scott Spiezo had a bad year as well and started the year off on the disabled list and would hit .215, 10 bombs with 41 RBIs. Closer Eddie Guaradado would end the year on the DL and end up having 18 saves with a 2.78 ERA.

During that same year the Mariners traded ace Freddy Garcia for three prospects (none have panned out thus far) and released Olerud and Aurillia. They also watched the face of the franchise, Edgar Martinez announce his retirement. The only good thing about 2004 was Ichiro breaking George Sisler's record with 262 hits in a year. The day after the season ended Bob Melvin was fired after just two years with the team.

The franchise, heading into the 2005 season, was at a crossroads. The torch was now passed to Ichiro as the new face and the club had to make an important decision. Should they try and win now so they don't lose a fan base that took so long to build or blow the team up with a chance to rebuild?

Bavasi intentionally chose to win now. He hired former Cleveland Indians manager Mike Hargrove with the thought of turning the Mariners into the Cleveland Indians of old. So in that off-season the Mariners ownership allowed Bavasi to spend some money. He spent over $110 million to bring in third baseman Adrian Beltre, who was coming off of 48 homeruns the year before and Richie Sexson, who is known for hitting long homeruns. To help improve the defense he also signed Pokey Reese at shortstop for a cool million. Reese was the Red Sox shortstop when they won the 2004 World Series 2004 – their first win since 1918. The only pitching signing he made was for former Mariner Aaron Sele. The Mariners also moved Randy Winn back to left field and Jeremy Reed, who was the big prospect in the Garcia trade, was the new starting centerfielder. Raul Ibanez became the designated hitter, which he should have been all along.

So with these moves you would think the Mariners had improved. Well, only slightly. The team wound up losing 93 games. So, for those scoring at home, we had four straight seasons of 90+ wins followed by back-to-back seasons of 90+ losses. A complete turnaround.

During the year the Mariners realized having an outfield with a combined 24 homeruns (15 by Ichiro alone) just wasn't going to get the job done so the club decided to trade Randy Winn for two new prospects who didn't pan out. They traded Ron Villone for prospects that didn't pan out and they also traded Miguel Olivo who was a big part of the Garcia Trade. Olivo was hitting .151 with 5 HRs and 18 RBIs. He became expendable when the team drafted Jeff Clement, a catcher out of USC who was the third overall pick in the draft. The team also saw the decline of Brett Boone during the season and he was released. The team got some excitement in August when they called up young phenom Felix Hernandez. Felix did not disappoint, going 4-4 with a 2.67 ERA in 12 starts that year, averaging seven innings a start.

So how did the new guys work out, you ask? Richie Sexson was the big surprise. Many said Bavasi paid too much for Sexson and gave him too long of a contract, but after 2005 it was hard to argue with Bavasi’s decision after Sexson hit .263 with 39 HRs and 121 RBIs.

Beltre - the fans were hard on him and it took a while for him to get going. He was wearing the bust label hitting .255 with 19 HR's and 87 RBI's. Pokey Reese got hurt in spring training and never played a game for the team. The Mariners first called up Mike Morse and then Yuniesky Betancourt to take over at shortstop, along with Jose Lopez to replace Brett Boone. Scott Spiezo would be released and the Mariners would still owe him $6 million after he went 3 for 47 on the year and had just 1 RBI.

Aaron Sele would go 6-12 with an ERA of 5.66 and was released in June. Rookie sensation Jeremy Reed wasn't the rookie of the year candidate we all thought he would turn out to be. He ended a disappointing season hitting .254 with 3 HRs and 45 RBIs.

The Mariners tried the youth movement during the year. J.J. Putz became the setup man after going 6-5 with a 3.60 ERA. Jose Lopez was now the second baseman and Betancourt became shortstop. Ibanez was moved back to the outfield, which was a huge mistake by the organization. To improve next season, the Mariners would need a catcher, a DH and some starting pitching.

In that off-season the Mariners signed Japanese catcher Kenji Johjima to be the stop gap for when Clement would finally be ready. For starting pitching they gave Jarrod Washburn, who had gone just 8-8 the year before, a four-year/$36 million deal because they figured he would work out in Safeco and that it would hurt the Angels, his former team and Mariners rival. The Mariners pass up on Frank Thomas at DH because he is a righty and went for the controversial switch hitter Carl Everett. The Everett signing proved to be a lot worse than we ever thought it could be. Meanwhile, Thomas would hit .270, hit 39 HRs and drive in 114 RBIs for division rival Oakland A's that same season.

This roster did go from being extremely old to being extremely young. The team early on decided that Felix Hernandez would be on a pitch count and start off as the No. 5 starter. Felix didn't respond well to that, starting the year 0-4 and finishing 12-14 with a 4.52 ERA. The Mariners overcame a closer's controversy as well when everyday Eddie could no longer get the job done. By July Eddie (1-3, 5.48 ERA, only 5 saves) was traded. Everett was a flop and was released and that forced the Mariners to trade young second base prospect Absubual Cabera to the Indians for right handed DH Eduadado Perez. The Mariners two weeks later traded prospect Sin Soo-Choo to the Indians for Ben Broussard. Jeremy Reed got injured in June and was out for the year. He wasn't hitting much as he hit just .217 with 6 HR's and a measly 17 RBI's. The call up Adam Jones wasn't much better as he wasn't ready in 2006 hitting .216 with 1 homer and 8 RBIs. The team was in contention until August when they went on a 13 game losing streak and it was mostly on the road to our divisional rivals Texas, Oakland and Anaheim. Jamie Moyer the other face of the franchise was also traded for prospects that haven't panned out yet. For those scoring at home we haven't traded one vet where we have received a prospect who has panned out.

The team did improve behind a lights out bullpen that featured J.J. Putz (4-1, 2.30 ERA, 36 saves) closing and George Sherril (2-4, 4.28 ERA) and Rafael Soriano (1-2, 2.25 ERA) setting him up along with Mark Lowe (1-0, 1.93 ERA). The Mariners would go from winning 69 games to winning 78 games but for the 3rd straight year they were in last place in their division.

The Bavasi moves didn't produce at all. Carl Everett hit .227, 11 bombs, 33 RBIs. Perez hit .195 with 1 HR and 11 RBIs and Ben Broussard hit .238 with eight bombs, 17 RBI’s. Jarrod Washburn went 8-14 with a 4.67 ERA. The bright spot was new catcher Kenji Johjima hitting .291 with 18 homeruns and 76 RBIs.

The team already traded Moyer and let Pineiro and Meche walk. Bavasi had to find a way to find three starting pitchers to add to his staff. The team decided to move Ichiro to center as it would be easier to find a RF than CF. The Mariners were also in need for a DH. The club felt they realistically could compete. The fans and ownership were also growing tired of Bavasi and Hargrove so Bavasi knew he had to win in 2007 or he could be fired. Therefore, he made some panic trades that are hurting this team today.

They wanted a "professional hitter" so they traded two prospects and inherited Jose Vidro's 2 year/$18 million contract which has a stipulation in it where if he gets 400 AB's in 2008 he can come back in 2009 for $10 million. Given Vidro's age, past injuries and lack of power, the move didn't make much sense. Unfortunately, this wasn't even his worst move. The next move came when Bavasi figured our bullpen was so deep that we could trade Rafael Soriano to the Atlanta Braves for left-handed starter Horacio Ramirez. He then signed 36-year-old Miguel Batista to a 3-year/$26 million contract. The one bright spot in the off-season was signing controversial Jose Guillen to a 1-year/$5 million dollar deal. He then signed Chris Reitsma to replace Soriano as the right-handed set up man. The Mariners were still one starter short in the eyes of Bill Bavasi so he decided to sign World Series hero Jeff Weaver to a 1-year/$9 million deal. He also turned down a Richie Sexson for Tim Hudson (In 2007 went 16-10, 3.33 era) that off-season. That move would prove costly.

The team’s payroll broke over $100 million for the first time.

The 2007 team overachieved and won 88 games. Just two years ago, they had won just 69 games. The club had improved 19 wins in just two years. The moves that Bavasi made hurt the team that season and in the end. During the season manager, Mike Hargrove resigned during an eight-game winning streak. The team was 45-33 when Hargrove decided to step down. Bench coach John McLaren took over as manager. McLaren was brought over just in case if the team wanted to fire Hargrove. McLaren would finish the year going 43-41. For those scoring at home that's three different managers in the same span of one GM.

According to the Pythagorean W-L, the team should have gone 79-83 as the team was outscored on the season 813-794. The team was anchored by a strong bullpen and a team who hit for a good average. The team also squandered the year by bowing down to the veterans. The team refused to bench Richie Sexson despite Sexson hitting .205 with 21 HRs and 63 RBIs. The team refused to call up Adam Jones until late July, despite him tearing up Triple A. The team also stuck with Horacio Ramirez until September.

The results of the off-season were mixed. The hitting you would say was a good off-season. Jose Guillen would end up being the No. 3 hitter and would hit .290 with 23 HRs with 99 RBIs. Jose Vidro had a comeback year hitting .314 but had just 6 HR's and 59 RBIs.

The pitching moves, unfortunately, were horrible. Let’s start with the good, which was Miguel Batista who went 16-11 with a 4.29 ERA. Now it’s on to the bad with Horacio Ramirez who made 20 starts, pitched just 98 innings, and went 8-7 with an ERA of 7.16. Jeff Weaver went 7-13 with a 6.20 ERA. Chris Reitsma went 0-2 with a 7.61 ERA. Other veteran arms came in and were just as unproductive. Rick White was 0-1 with an 8.44 ERA, Lance Parish had a 6.97 ERA, and Jason Davis had a 6.31 ERA.

The team was in contention until the last weekend in August when the Mariners lost 17 out of 19 games to fall out of contention. The bullpen finally wore down after having to log so many innings. The pen was the strong point of the team with Putz (6-1, 40 saves, 1.38 ERA) closing it down and was set up by George Sherril (2-0, 2.36 ERA). Righty Brandon Morrow, who was the fourth overall pick in the 2006 draft, was forced to be in the bullpen and not start because of the Soriano trade. Morrow turned out to be a great success but struggled a bit down the stretch. He still wound up 3-4 with a 4.12 ERA. Sean Green went 5-2 with a 3.84 ERA. Second lefty Eric O'Flaherty went 7-1 with a 4.47 ERA.

The Bullpen was the strength and the hitting on paper last year minus Sexson's disaster year was good as well. The one weakness was starting pitching. Instead of looking at his team as a 79-win team and having to do more to improve it, Bavasi saw this team as an 88-win team and saw that Mariners had to replace both Horam and Dream Weaver who failed miserably in Seattle. The first decision was to let Jose Guillen walk as Adam Jones was going to replace him in right and get his chance. The other move was to trade Ben Broussard so he could start. The club figured Richie Sexson would bounce back.

Therefore, in Bavasi's eyes we were two starting pitchers away from being a playoff team. He signed Carlos Silva to a 4 year/48 million contract despite Silva going 13-14 last year. His next move was a big move. He traded for Baltimore Orioles Ace Erik Bedard. Bedard went 13-5 last year with a 3.16 ERA. The Mariners gave up a ton to get Bedard though. They gave up their every day right fielder in Adam Jones, top setup man George Sherril and three prospects for the ace. Then the Mariners only other moves were signing veteran RF Brad Wilkerson despite Wilkerson hitting just .234 last year and bench hitter Miguel Cairo. Bavasi improved the starting staff but ignored improving the bench, improving first base, and improving the outfield defense. Another thing was he didn’t replace Jose Guillen's production or George Sherril's.

The season so far with the two pitchers mentioned have been fabulous. Bedard is 2-1 with a 1.76 ERA and Silva is 3-0 with a 2.79 ERA. O'Flaherty, who was supposed to replace Sheril, was sent to double A after the first week when he went 0-1 with a 20.25 ERA. Wilkerson has been released after hitting .232 with zero homeruns and just five RBIs. The Pitching has been good but Bavasi ignored the hitting and bullpen. He didn't realize he really had a 79-win team instead of an 88 team.

As you can see Bavasi has made numerous bad signings, bad trades and we haven't had any success under his years. He inherited a tough situation but he made the situation even worse with his bad moves. I have a feeling the Bavasi years won't have a happy ending either.

Instead of firing McLaren and getting our fourth manager during Bavasi’s tenure, I think it is time for the Mariners owners to hold Bavasi accountable for his actions. Imagine this team if we had kept Soriano and kept Cabera as trade bait so we could have possibly kept Jones or use Cabera to trade for a good stick. Imagine if we had signed Vlad when we had the chance. Bavasi has made many mistakes and not one by itself has killed us but all of them together is why we are in the mess we are in. It’s time to trade for a stick which is scary because Bavasi always pays too much for what we need. Bavasi despite a high payroll the last 4 seasons has yet to build a playoff team and hopefully his time in Seattle is running out.

Fast forward two years and not much has changed at all. In fact we are still having the same type of problems that hurt the franchise. Like trading Brandon Morrow away and then him pitching a one hitter and striking out 17 batters. That 2008 season ended with 100 losses and after a great turnaround in 2009 came 2010 losing over 100 games. Funny to think as of May 11,2008 Carlos Silva was doing that well. He was a total bust for the Mariners as was Erik Bedard.

The real root of the problem I should have focused on was Chuck Armstrong and Howard Lincoln. After all they are the ones who keep hiring and then firing manager after manager. They are hiring and then firing general manager after general manager. Bavasi deserves a ton of blame but the failures of the Mariners in 2010 proves the problems were much deeper than Bavasi. Jack Zduriencik has found himself making some mistakes after much praise for 2009. Well all hope Jack is the guy but he was also hired by the same knuckleheads who hired the previous failed general manager.

At the end of the day I missed the real problem two years ago. Bavasi was a huge part of the Mariners problem but unless Lincoln and Armstrong are no longer associated with the Mariners look for them to be failures for a while. I have a feeling I'll be writing about a new general manager this time next year. I won't be excited one bit because I'll know they were hired by Lincoln and Armstron.

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