Ask the Diamond Genius 11/25

Jason A. Churchill answers your baseball questions in the second installment of "Ask the Diamond Genius."

Q: What type of future do you see 3B Justin Leone having with the M's?
-Joann Battaglia, Ridgecrest, CA


DG: Leone should get a shot at the starting job at third base this spring. How much of a shot he gets depends a lot on which direction the club decides to go with Carlos Guillen and his pending arbitration as well as possible free agent pickups such as Joe Randa. The financially responsible thing to do would be to see how Leone does this spring and let him have the hot corner for 2004. How bad can he do for 300k?
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Q: What does being "designated for assignment" mean?
-Shawn Sulley, Olympia, WA


DG: A player has all the power in a situation like this. A team designates a player for assignment for two main reasons. The player is out of options, therefore cannot be sent back to the minors without the player's consent, and the team wants to place another player on the 25-man and/or 40-man roster. To create the room they need to send someone down to the minors, release a player, or designate a player for assignment. The player has two choices. He can accept the assignment and report to the minor league club or reject the assignment and automatically become a free agent, free to sign with any other club.
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Q: Are you pleased with the resigning of Edgar? If not, whom would you rather have signed?
-Kristi Palmer, North Seattle, WA


DG: Personally, YES I am. I also believe it was the best signing for the position the M's could have made. The free agent market wasn't likely to bare someone better for the money Edgar ultimately signed for. The team's weakness offensively is left-handed power, but with Rafael Palmeiro and Brad Fullmer the only two viable options, the M's best bet was keeping the franchise's most beloved player around for at least one more season. It's my belief that Edgar will exceed his 2003 number's in 2004.
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Q: How does arbitration work and how is it connected to free agency?
-Mike Willis, Orange County, CA


DG: One of my favorite questions to answer! A player does not become eligible for free agency until he has six years of service under his belt. Starting with the completion of a third season, and continuing through the completion of year five, a player is arbitration eligible. Arbitration is the process in which a judge decides between two salary proposals, one from the club and one from the player, and assigns the player one salary for the following season. The vast majority of the time arbitration is avoided when the team and player agree before such a hearing takes place. On occasion a team will avoid having to handle arbitration years with certain players by signing the player to multi-year contracts that steer the club and player clear of arbitration year after year. Teams control the contracts of all players the first three seasons until the player earns his arbitration status. One "year" of service is any season in which a player spends 45 or more days on the 25-man roster. The M's have several arbitration cases this winter and a few free agents to make decisions on as well.
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Q:  Who do you think got the better end of the A.J. Pierzynski  trade between San Francisco and Minnesota?
-Jake Smith, Minneapolis, MN


DG:  It's a close call, but from the surface the Giants definitely got the better end of the deal.  The qualifier is that the Twins were doing two things here.  Shedding a little bit of payroll by sending Pierzynski and his expected arbitration salary that could have approached the north side of 2.5 million, and adding some depth in the farm system in the pitching department.  The Twins received right-handed reliever Joe Nathan, and minor league prospects Boof Bonser, a righty, and left-hander Francisco Liriano.  Nathan, a former starter, was an effective middle reliever for the Giants in 2003 and will likely see a similar role for the Twins in 2004.  Bonser was a top 10 prospect for the Giants before his inconsistencies and command issues bit him for consecutive seasons in 2002 and 2003.  He could be one of several candidates for the final spot in the starting rotation come spring.  Liriano, just 20, is a few years away from being seen in the bigs but throws in the high 90's and touches 100 on occasion.  Pierzynski gives San Francisco an all-star quality catcher and a left-handed stick for a lineup itching for consistency.  There is the issue of Minnesota handing the catching  duties to a 20-year-old who has only spent half a season above "A" ball.  However, in the end, if the Twins are allowed to re-sign free agents Shannon Stewart, Latroy Hawkins, or Eddie Guardado because of this trade, the Twins are winners here.
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Q:  How are the Mariners the second most profitable organization in the Major Leagues but their payroll is never in the top 3?
-Dell Holtz, Chehalis, WA


DG:  The final decision on payroll ultimately comes from the top, CEO Howard Lincoln.  The club's philosophy has been to operate under a 50% system.  The payroll will sit very close to, or exactly at, half of the teams expected total revenues for that season.  Considering the M's payroll always ranks in the top 10, the complaint should not be aimed at the payroll totals, but at how the money is spread around.  Contracts such as the Kazuhiro Sasaki extension in 2002 and the failed trade of Jeff Cirillo and his near-untradable contract are two perfect examples.  The ownership spends plenty.  Hopefully Bavasi and company start spending it a little bit smarter and with more luck than the previous regime.

Q:  What are the chances that Jose Lopez and Greg Jacobs see time in Seattle in 2004?
-Frank Graves, Lynnwood, WA


DG:  Not good.  Jacobs had a great 2003 split between Inland and San Antonio and will start 2004 at Triple-A Tacoma.  His natural position seems to be RF but his lack of a great arm makes him better suited for LF.  At very best he could earn time later in the season as a reserve.  Lopez, who just turned 20, needs time at Tacoma and will get that to start 2004.  His progress defensively will be just as important as his plate performance, and if his second half of last season is any indication, he will make the necessary strides to make 2005 the year of Jose Lopez.  Any time Lopez sees in Seattle this year will be reminiscent of Jamal Strong's role in 2003 - mainly as a pinch-runner.

.................................................................................................... Got a question for the Diamond Genius? Send them to diamondgenius@hotmail.com and make sure you entitle the email "Ask Diamond Genius."

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