Left-handed Bullpen not the Answer

The Mariners are said to be on the lookout for available left-handed free agents, but with only a couple decent names remaining unsigned InsidethePark.com's Jamie Cobb says it's time for the M's to make a realization. Check out the story for Cobb's take on what the M's should do in 2004 and beyond.

Soon after Kazuhiro Sasaki announced his plans to forgo his $8 million guaranteed contract for the upcoming season, Mariner management began a spending spree. Before it was said and done, the front office was able to spend or earmark $3 million of the newly acquired funds, without bringing over a single player. Only the Pottery Barn allows you to spend more and get less.

Management designated $2 million for possible midseason acquisitions. Note the word possible, this is the same word found in front of George W. Bush's new budget for a manned tripped to Mars, possible.

An additional $1 million was set aside for budget overruns the Mariners said they had incurred on the set $95 million budget for the upcoming season. All said and done, that left the Mariner's with $5 million for additions prior to the start of the season.

Even after the accounting of the Mariners' Arthur Andersen, they are left with a sizable trough to improve their personnel immediately.

General Manager Bill Bavasi is determined to bring in a left-hander to replace the departed free agent Arthur Rhodes. His most likely target is Ron Villone. However the Mariner front office seems to be missing something. They are so dead set on bringing on someone who wears their glove on their right hand that they are having a hard time distinguishing between what they need and what they want.

Last year left-handers batted .269 against Arthur Rhodes, the loan left-hander out of the bullpen, right-handers; .243. Hasegawa, Soriano, and Mateo, the three other prominent relievers last year for the Mariners each fared better against left-handers, .246, .191, and .220 respectively.

And what sets these three apart from Rhodes other than the fact that they all got left-handers out more effectively? They are all right-handed. Rhodes performance or lack there of last year surely led to the Mariners allowing him to walk this off-season which begs the question, why replace a left-hander who couldn't get left-handers out with a left-hander who doesn't get left-handers out?

Last year Villone surrendered a .267 average to left-handers. Not to mention he gave up more homeruns, 5 to 2, walked more, 10 to 7, and far exceeded Rhodes OBP and SLG .342 to .316 and .475 to .346 against left-handers respectively.

It seems as though the Mariners bullpen has the set-up to accomplish the Theo Epstein approach to late inning relief; a revolving door in the bullpen. The Mariners can accomplish this because unlike Boston last year, they have the arms. Epstein himself said it when he was criticized for the early season failures of the closer by committee. "It's not the idea that's flawed, it's the personnel". The Mariners have the personnel.

Along with the off-season acquisition of Eddie Guardado, the Mariners have four relievers, three of which can close, and all can get left-handers out. Left-handers fared the worst against everyday Eddie, reaching base at a .194 clip while only batting .175. Incredible numbers.

It seems as though the front office can't see the bullpen for the relievers, for a lack of a better metaphor.

Bullpen's don't need left-handers, what they need are relievers that get left-handers out. The Mariners, unlike many other teams, are able to accomplish this without having a prominent left-handed set-up man, and the front office needs to recognize that.

Jamie can be reached at jamieccobb@hotmail.com.

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