The Seattle Mariners on Monday afternoon fired their embattled general manager, Bill Bavasi.
Bavasi, who took over a promising franchise at the end of the 2003 season, has made a plethora of poor baseball-related decisions, some of which have crippled the organization and will set it back for at least a few years.
Although he has guided the club to only one .500 campaign and two 90-loss seasons in his tenure, it was the Mariners’ dismal showing over first few months and poor record that proved to be the last straw.
Headed into spring training, many within baseball had high expectations for Seattle, which added Erik Bedard and free agent right-hander Carlos Silva to its starting rotation.
The question, though, is why?
The Mariners’ 25-man roster was poor, and all preseason polls predicting a postseason run for the club were way off base.
How could one expect Bedard, just a single pitcher, to make such a huge difference?
While Silva was one of the premier free agents on the market in a thin class of starting pitchers, he is a league average starter at best.
Which is why Bavasi’s decision to throw $48-million dollars at such an average pitcher entering the decline stages of his career is so puzzling—and concerning.
The team would have been wise to resist the temptation of spending so much money to lock up the veteran, who has yet to strike out more than 90 batters in a single season. Heck, if they waited, perhaps they could have pursued Kyle Loshe—8-2 with a 111 ERA+—for half the price instead.
Was anyone really surprised, though?
This is the same GM who spent $37-million on middle-of-the-rotation lefty Jarrod Washburn, at best a number three starter during his prime.
Bavasi has been the worst general manager in the game for some time. In fact, before he was fired today, there was a huge gap in baseball intelligence between GM number 30 and 29.
Quite frankly, the longtime baseball man did not understand the crucial concepts of how to run an efficient organization, becoming one of the game's most irresponsible spenders. Given a generous budget to work with, he has turned the Mariners into one of baseball’s worst teams during his five-year stint in Seattle. Instead of throwing hefty contracts at veterans or trading for players who are bound to underachieve— with Bavasi: Horacio Ramirez (trade to Atlanta for Rafael Soriano), Richie Sexson, Jose Vidro and Washburn, for example— compared to their paychecks, organizations must look for cheaper (usually more productive) alternatives.
The time has come for clubs to ignore throwing big money at aging veterans, when they can receive similar on-the-field results from youngsters entering the league, with some making near the league minimum.
Case in point, the Mariners’ decision to send down top prospect Jeff Clement—who has posted a line of .337/.457/.680 in 47 games at Triple-A Tacoma—after his brief struggles over a small sample size earlier in the spring. This was just one of many recent blunders to add to the Bavasi file.
Clement has done all that he can in the minors, posting the highest OPS (1.137) in the Pacific Coast League.
Yet Vidro and Sexson, arguably the most overpaid tandem of athletes in all of processional sports, continue to suck up at-bats.
In 759 at-bats with Seattle, Vidro has hit only 11 home runs. Granted, he has never hit for power, and, when the club decided to pursue the former second baseman following the 2006 season, they were looking for a consistent offensive player who did not strike out a lot and could hit for a high average.
Clearly, when looking for a DH, those two factors should not be the ultimate criteria for making a baseball-related decision. Vidro did, in fact, post a solid average (.314) in his debut season on the West coast, but his .394 slugging percentage was the lowest mark among all regular designated hitters in the American League. His OPS+ of 109 indicated that he was a tick above league average at the plate. For his position, however, his production was marginal at best.
The struggles have only gotten worse for the 33-year-old in 2008, as he has a horrendous—for any position, let alone DH—line of .219/.267/.333 in 201 at-bats. His .601 OPS is again the lowest total of all full-time players at his position. Yet, the organization refuses to acknowledge its grave mistake, running him out there every night in the middle of the batting order. His OPS+ of 64 is far below the major league average as well.
Clearly, $8,500,000—Vidro’s salary in 2008— does not get you as much as it used to, does it?
Ditto for Sexson, whose line of .212/.292//382 is not exactly stellar, either. Yet he is making more than $14-million.
Although Clement, or any one player, would not solve the serious issues which have prevented the Mariners from scoring enough runs, there is no way he could do any worse than the aforementioned millionaires.
Going into Monday night, Seattle has a club line of .249/.306/.375, scoring only 269 runs. The team's offensive woes are hardly a surprise, though, with Vidro and Sexson projected to hit in the middle of the lineup.
Then there is the Bedard deal with Baltimore, in which the organization mortgaged its future to compete in 2008, though the odds were stacked high against them from realistically pushing the Los Angeles Angels in the American League West, anyway. It was clear that the addition of the young lefty and Silva—when combined with such a poorly constructed offensive attack—would struggle to play .500 baseball, even if everything had gone according to plan.
George Sherrill has been an excellent addition to the Orioles’ bullpen, posting a 1.16 WHIP in 31.0 innings pitched while picking up 22 saves. Adam Jones is a budding superstar—granted, he needs to improve from a plate discipline standpoint and has struggled as well in ’08—and has the pure ability to turn into a solid major league outfielder one day. Despite Jones' .667 OPS, he is perhaps a future All-Star whom the Mariners had under their control for the long term.
Chris Tillman, the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2007, is also enjoying success in the Baltimore farm system. In 13 starts at Double-A Bowie, Tillman is 7-1 with a 2.78 ERA and 1.21 WHIP while allowing only 45 hits in 64.2 innings pitched.
Now, there are rumors the franchise is considering dealing the centerpiece of the deal for Seattle, Bedard, to help begin the rebuilding process. While they gave up a great deal in the deal, pursuing any potential trade options may be in the Mariners' best interest, as the southpaw has not shown the ability to work into the seventh inning.
This realization was perhaps the nail in the coffin for Bavasi.
John McLaren, who was on the hot seat at the start of the month, has come under fire as well. The one person who is ultimately responsible for this team’s grave failures, however, is Bavasi. With the roster that he was given to work with, it would have taken a miracle for McLaren—even if he truly inspired the best out of his players to this point—to guide his club above the .500 mark.
Thus, the Mariners, whose $100-million-plus payroll has bought them the worst record (24-45) in the majors, turn the pages on a new chapter. With Bavasi gone, a real solution to competing again in the AL West is finally within reach, although the rebuilding process—essentially cleaning up his mess—will take a couple of years. If the club fired him this time last year, they would already have a head start. Still, the organization does deserve some credit for making the necessary move this afternoon, as obvious as it has been for a long time now.
Bavasi’s résumé as the top baseball operations exec in Seattle includes many other blunders as well, from trades to player development issues.
There is one tidbit, however, that he will not get to add to his not-so-illustrious LinkedIn profile. Since he was fired, he loses his opportunity to become the first general manager to have a 100-loss season with a payroll exceeding $100-million.
Rumor has it that a few years back, when a Mariners player was reading Moneyball on a team flight, an unnamed executive in the organization laughed at the book, saying, “What are you reading that s**t for?”
While there is no guarantee the executive was Bavasi, who would be lucky to get another general manager job some day, I still wonder. Who is laughing now?
To reach Tyler Hissey, send an email to TylerHissey@gmail.com