Organizational Rankings: Future Talent – Seattle

Maybe in the perfect world for a Mariners fan, Adam Jones joins Franklin Gutierrez and Ichiro in the outfield, Chris Tillman shares the top of the prospect list with Dustin Ackley. Maybe Asdrubal Cabrera is still around. But as much as these fans wish it didn’t, the Bill Bavasi era did happen, and numerous young talents are in other organizations because of it. But, things are getting pretty good in Seattle, and I won’t be the first person to tell you why: Jack Zduriencik and friends.

I’m not going to tell you that Zduriencik is the best General Manager in baseball. That, I think, would be impossible to achieve without years of experience in the position. However, he is undeniably one of the game’s great talent evaluators, and he’s surrounding himself with informed opinions from intelligent people. The foundation is built for future success, both because of the personnel in the front office and the personnel on the field. This begins, like it has with every team in this series, with the stars: in Seattle, that’s Ichiro Suzuki and Felix Hernandez.

When Ichiro starts to significantly decline will always be at the heart of the Mariners future, as it’s hard to imagine ownership ever letting him don another uniform. In a perfect world, he has five more seasons with 200 hits and plus defense in him, as his 4-5 WAR contributions are essential to future success. With Felix, the hope is merely that he peaks when the average player does, as he is under team control through his age 28 season. If his 2009 is a level that can be sustained, the Mariners will be able to boast the best pitcher in the game, a distinction that certainly can’t hurt.

Joining Felix in Seattle until October 2014 will be Franklin Gutierrez, signed to an extension in January that promises a placement on Dave Cameron’s Trade Value series. I can’t believe Gutierrez is a +25 fielder, obviously, but if he’s +15 and makes minimal strides with the bat, he can be a 4.5 WAR player. And there’s Chone Figgins, tied down to the same timetable as Felix and Franklin, and seemingly just as unique as the previous three players. The hope is that Figgins understands his value was never as strong as it was last year, when he worked 100 walks. If he’s that patient again, then Figgins tenure in Seattle will go just fine.

This is the Major League core, and while it’s not typical, the players give Jack Z a very nice start for the next five seasons. Adam Moore will probably be there for all of them behind the plate, and you know how I feel about him. Some people took exception to my Moore projection, but I truly believe it was complimentary — Moore’s floor is very high. The pitcher version of this would be Ryan Rowland-Smith, who will have his modest success in Seattle as long as Safeco Field is standing. The bad news in Seattle is that the pitching really thins out after The Hyphen; there’s quite a bit of young relievers around Brandon League, but Zduriencik will have to be creative in building a rotation for the future.

If the pitching must come from outside the organization, the Mariners must keep their offense cheap outside of Ichiro and Figgins. They’ll get some help in this regard in 2011, when Michael Saunders should effectively replace Ken Griffey Jr., and Dustin Ackley should take over for Jose Lopez. The latter is another key to the future, as he must take to second base fairly quickly. While defense and power are still question marks for Ackley, his ability to make solid contact is an unbelievable skill. He’s a leadoff hitter the same as Ichiro and Figgins, which means the Don Wakamatsu will have rooms for lots of creativity in filling out his lineup card. Saunders, meanwhile, should play a good left field in Safeco (surprise, surprise) and will bring a touch of power to a lineup that lacks it.

There’s no doubt that by acquiring Cliff Lee, the Mariners dipped into what was already a shallow farm system. But Jack surely did so with the understanding that his team is going to rebuild this farm system quickly. They started last year, unafraid of the bonus demands of Nick Franklin and Steve Baron after spending big money on Ackley. Tom McNamara and his staff in the scouting department are very good at what they do, and I have total faith this team will be churning out young players in a few years. Until then, Jack Zduriencik must continue to be creative while building around the most unique core in Major League Baseball.




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38 Responses to “Organizational Rankings: Future Talent – Seattle”

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  1. Mike says:

    Wait a minute. The Phillies are an old team with little on the farm and little in the way of depth, and thus they’re #9 on the list, but the Mariners can count two speed players in Ichiro and Figgins (at 36 and 32 years old, respectively) as two key building block type guys for the next five years, while having a similarly weak farm system and a similar lack of depth at the big league level? What am I missing?

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    • Bryan Smith says:

      Mike, I didn’t write anything in regards to the Phillies, so let me try to keep things on the Mariners bent here. I had to include Figgins because his contract means he will be here awhile. And I addressed the concern in regards to Ichiro’s age, but I do think he’s an odd-enough duck to keep this going for a little while. You have to talk about them when talking about the future because they are going to be awhile. But no one questions that they’ll have to age gracefully for our aggressive ranking of this organization to pay off.

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      • Mike says:

        I understand that, and I’m not even a Phillie fan. I just thought, from a list perspective, it seemed somewhat inconsistent.

        I’m not dogging the Ms at all, and I think they are certainly on the right track and seem to be building properly. I just think this ranking is extremely aggressive for where they are as an organization now in terms of talent.

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    • The Typical Idiot Fan says:

      Different skill sets. Players like Ichiro and Figgins age better than players like Ryan Howard. Meanwhile, the Mariners ace is about 10 years YOUNGER than the Phillies ace.

      It’s not hard to see why the Mariners have greater future prospects than the Phils.

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      • B says:

        “It’s not hard to see why the Mariners have greater future prospects than the Phils.”

        I’m still not seeing it, what about the Mariners is so set up for future success, beyond faith in the GM?

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      • B says:

        Since when do guys who rely on their legs to give them any value offensively age well into their last 30′s early 40′s? And considering Ryan Howard has lost about 40 lbs the past two years, I don’t think you can really use the old “he’s fat so he’s going to suck soon” excuse anymore.

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  2. Luke in MN says:

    So Seattle has a good–not great–current team, with a good–not great–chance of winning the division. They have very good–but not great–revenue. And they had a “shallow farm system” that’s now even shallower following the Cliff Lee trade. It’s just hard to see how that adds up to 6th overall organization in baseball.

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    • Jeremiah says:

      The only thing that explains it for me is that these guys are really big on the Mariners’ FO. Basically, they’re saying that the Zduriencik is so much better than all the other GMs that he can rebuild this team within just a couple of years, and they will have a good farm system and good MLB talent in that timeframe. Otherwise, it makes zero sense.

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      • Chair says:

        That would also help account for the Dodgers extra low ranking of 14. Colletti is that bad.

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      • Wrighteous says:

        Let’s look at the Mariners improvement from 08-09 in terms of Pythag Expectation. Here are their Pythag wins (actual win total) from the past two years:

        2008: 66 (61)
        2009: 75 (85)
        Diff: +9 (+24)

        Most of the “difference” that Jim Z made last year was illusory. If over time a team’s winning percentage approaches its pythag exp., the M’s are likely to come back down to earth this year. I don’t see how you can expect anything more than .500 ball from them, and I don’t see how you could put a .500 team among the top ten organizations in baseball

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      • Random Guy says:

        As a Mariner fan I have to agree with Jeremiah here. I’m as bullish on Zduriencik as the next guy, but let’s wait until we see actual results before we rank them among the best franchises. I’m referring in particular to comments like: “Tom McNamara and his staff in the scouting department are very good at what they do, and I have total faith this team will be churning out young players in a few years.” Well, maybe that faith is completely justified, but let’s wait until the churning-out begins before we bestow honors on them.

        Also, the phrase “unafraid of the bonus demands of Nick Franklin and Steve Baron” doesn’t quite make sense to me; Baron, in particular, was overdrafted because the team had a money-saving deal with him beforehand.

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      • Random Guy says:

        As a Mariners fan I’m inclined to agree with Jeremiah here. I’m as bullish on Zduriencik as the next guy, but let’s wait until we see some results (a well-stocked system, an immediate contender) before we rank them among the elite franchises. I had been thinking I would see this team ranked in the 10-15 range just because of the future potential of the front office, but this is way, way up there.

        So, for example, when I see comments like “Tom McNamara and his staff in the scouting department are very good at what they do, and I have total faith this team will be churning out young players in a few years” — this confidence may be well justified, but let’s wait until the churning begins. As of now, as conceded in the write-up, the system is still shallow.

        Also, I don’t get the comment that they were “unafraid of the bonus demands of Nick Franklin and Steve Baron.” Baron, in particular, was overdrafted because they had a money-saving agreement in place with him beforehand, and he’s not emerging as any kind of major prospect yet.

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      • Random Guy says:

        Sorry, please ignore my highly redundant replies — I got an error message and thought it had been lost, then rewrote it from scratch.

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      • Random Guy says:

        Wrighteous: the whole Pythag thing has been explored already; there’s been a writeup (by Dave Cameron, I think) showing that the team may have overperformed its Pythagorean expectations, but on the other hand, the runs scored and runs allowed underperformed where they should have been based on WAR. WAR, which is a better measure than Pythagorean, put them at 83 wins last year.

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      • Wrighteous says:

        I realize this, but my point was not that their Win total was too high, but rather that their improvement was illusory. I cannot easily look up a team’s WAR, but if I did, I am sure it would show the same thing. Pythag is much more convenient for quick citing.

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    • Ivdown says:

      It doesn’t, the ranking is a joke, and everyone on here can easily see that.

      I don’t have a problem with the people who came up with the list, but I’m guessing Dave Cameron had a lot to do with this ridiculous ranking and it’s not what I expect from fangraphs.com. Seriously, I wouldn’t have expected fangraphs.com to exude such bias.

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  3. ThundaPC says:

    I dunno. I’d keep an eye on Ian Snell this season. Last year he was kind of a mess hauling a B/KK rate of 1.07. Although it’s spring training, Snell had done a good job on cutting down the walks. If he carries that into the season we might see some bounce back there. Those two option years are kind of a wild card so we’ll have to see what happens.

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  4. MX says:

    I am a M’s fan and I am surprised to see the M’s is ranked at the top. I would say with the current roster and farm system, the M’s is only a mid-class team. But with big Z, it has a bright future.

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  5. Zach says:

    It just seems a bit strange that all the shortcomings of the Mariners are glossed over whilst they seem to be the forefront of some of the other rankings. Anemic offense? Heavily penalized for the Giants. Best pitcher (for some definition of “best”)? Didn’t help out Kansas City or San Fransisco. Shallow farm system? Knocked the Cardinals and Phillies down, but not Seattle. Aging core players? Huge problem for the Phils, perfectly fine here. Hugely outperformed their Pythagorean win expectation? LAA are going to regress, but the Mariners will be fine. You can’t build a team in free agency? Well, the Tigers and Phillies can’t, but Seattle can fill out their pitching staff that way.

    I understand the excitement about he of the unspellable last name, but I just don’t understand this ranking based on the current talent or future talent. Maybe the organization post will make this make sense but I’m starting to doubt it.

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    • B says:

      Yup, this sums it up perfectly. Until the authors can exclude extreme bias from these rankings it’s pretty damn silly for a highly respectable site like this to keep churning these out.

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    • Matt C says:

      Couldn’t have said it better myself Zach. It’s like the rules that apply to other teams don’t apply to the Mariners.

      When somebody brings up how they outperformed their Pythagorean people respond with “Well Pythagorean isn’t the best method” then cite some method that works best for the M’s. Yet they bring up that same Pythagorean record when trying to bring down another team.(Just look at some of the Angels posts on here)

      When somebody brings up their older players people respond with “Well players like that age better.”

      When people bring up a rival team Wins/Loss record from last year M’s fan quickly point out “09 isn’t a constant” But then they cite the M’s record last year to cite how much they improved.

      So don’t get me wrong I think the M’s are heading in the right direction but it’s things like this that rub me the wrong way. I realize that it’s not all their fans but you do see this stuff on here often.

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  6. Boomer says:

    OK, I have to agree with other posters here and on previous threads. 80% of the “Future Talent” post relates to the current talent. There are only 3-4 prospects mentioned at all. It’s a mystery to me how this helps justify a #6 ranking.

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  7. DavidCEisen says:

    “But Jack surely did so with the understanding that his team is going to rebuild this farm system quickly.”

    What does that even mean? Its okay to trade prospects, as long as you rebuild the farm system quickly? I’m sure every GM has that idea. I know Jack Z is a good and all (past performance doesn’t guarantee future success), but lets not get carried away here.

    But, hey they have a unique core, right? Somehow having at least 3 lead-off type hitters allows for creativity. As if there is something magical at having three contact hitters in the same lineup. I can’t wait to see the mind bending lineups that come out of this.

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  8. JB says:

    I agree with much of the sentiment here in the comments section. I have a hard time understanding their organization at the 6 spot. I was excited about the progress made by the FO over the past two seasons and I look forward to the future, but believe you have to give it more time before you can rank this team in the top 10. The addition of Griffey and now Sweeny to the roster are nice feel good stories, but how does an organization that puts hugs and tickles above real on the field talent rank this high?

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  9. hatfield says:

    Nice piece, although no lamentation of the Bill Bavasi era is complete without mention of Shin-Soo Choo.

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  10. Dave says:

    For as good as this site is, to rank the Mariners 6th is nothing more than a leap of faith. I’m sure Jack will turn this into a top 6 organization in time…but for now I struggle to see how they were ranked ahead of the Braves, Rockies and Phillies.

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    • Reuben says:

      If he’ll turn it into the #6 organization in time, since this is a ranking of the “health” of an organization, it should be ranked at #6. If that’s their inevitable conclusion, you HAVE to rank them there.

      Now I’m not saying that’s how it is. I am saying that what you said makes no sense.

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    • B says:

      “If he’ll turn it into the #6 organization in time, since this is a ranking of the “health” of an organization, it should be ranked at #6. If that’s their inevitable conclusion, you HAVE to rank them there.”

      But we don’t know what he’ll turn them into. It’s really, really hard to project that far into the future. You know what’s easier than projecting that far into the future? Projecting short term future, like the next year or two. If they’re the 6th best organization 5 years from now, but were only the 15th most successful organization over the 5 years it takes to get to 2015….why would they be ranked #6? Do we just not care about success in 2010-2014 or something? Do those years, those playoff appearances, World Series victories, and regular season games not matter? It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me to ignore the years we can better project in favor of years that are much harder to project….

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  11. ETAsports says:

    Like most commentators, I can’t believe this ranking is so high and the analysis of “future talent” is weak. According to your own rankings, the Mariners have only two top 100 prospects. Ackley at 12 and Saunders at 84.

    Even if Jack Z and management go over slot and hit a home run in next’s year draft it seems far fetched that they could match the young core of teams ranked below them.

    Anxiously awaiting Cameron’s defense of this ranking.

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  12. Bronnt says:

    I don’t understand the ranking. I do like that the Mariners seem to be cutting edge in regards to building a team based on good defensive talents and good pitching. Of course, it’s not cutting edge at all as that’s what the Atlanta Braves did about 20 years ago, but they didn’t have UZR to support it.

    And hooray, they have baseball’s best pitcher, in a world where Greinke, Linecum, and Verlander DON’T EXIST. And Dan Haren remains the ignored man. And Roy Halladay gets really old really quickly. And CC Sabathia, too, since two season over 7 WAR followed a season of 6 WAR seems more exciting than than Felix’s one season of 6.9 WAR. Oh, and young pitchers like Clayton Kershaw, or Tommy Hanson, or Steven Strasburg had better not jump to 6 WAR level. Or, maybe, Felix Hernandez is NOT the best pitcher in baseball.

    Yeah, the ranking is too aggressive.

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    • B says:

      “And Roy Halladay gets really old really quickly.”

      And don’t forget about the part where Ichiro ages like Benjamin Button, and Figgins and Gutierrez play just as well as they did last year for the rest of their careers (on the M’s, of course)…!

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    • . says:

      A stretch, to say the least. Over there in Philly, you’ve got Roy Halladay… who, you must remember, is close to 10 years younger than our staff ace, King Felix. Best stuff in baseball.

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  13. Jeff says:

    What a joke…

    The Tigers should even be higher than the M’s…..

    Front office potential??? WTF???

    Dombrowski has built 2 W.S. winners and got a 3rd team there… Does that help the Tigers ranking???

    And current talent???

    Verlander and Felix area wash.

    But I will Take Cabrera, Porcello, Scherzer, Jackson, Sizemore, Turner, and Crosby over this rag tag group any day…

    What a freaking joke Dave Cameron is….

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  14. maqman says:

    I’m an old Mariner’s fan but I don’t think that they are in the top six teams at this point in time. In the top ten is defensible, especially given their FO strength. I think they will exceed the pythag and other projections again this season, their defensive value in their own park is underappreciated in my view. They are not better than the Phils, the Rockies and Braves are debatable. Their farm stock is mid range, even after the Lee deal. There are some nice players coming along that are not top 100 fodder now and were not mentioned in their projection.

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