First, some thanks: Special thanks to Mike at Sodo Oh No for setting up the MBSBL. I love drafting, and it's been a blast so far. I know it's been work, with server snafus and all, and I appreciate it.
Also, thanks to Gabriel at The Safe and to Dead Reckoning for the links and props. One quibble with the Reckoning: poetry's got nothing to do with being "cerebral," especially not the ancient Chinese poets. All that stuff is about wine, and nature, and drinking wine surrounded by nature. Which is all good, of course.
MBSBL Update: I swear I did not read this post ("I predict San Shin picks up Magglio Ordonez because that's who I want next") before making my round five pick.
I was sweating out each remaining pick before mine, hoping Magglio Ordonez would be there -- he'd fill out my outfield perfectly, was my highest rated player, and I'd have a brutally hard choice to make if he wasn't. Luckily, What the Hell selected Lance Berkman (a fine choice for their center field slot), and I got Maggs for right field.
With my sixth round pick, I went with position scarcity and took Alfonso Soriano. As far as EqA is concerned, he's a notch above everybody that's left in the middle infield. And here's why I took Melvin Mora earlier: So I could take the best available shortstop or second baseman, 'cause frankly, the pickings are mighty slim. There are over 25 first basemen left with an OPS above .800. Before I took Soriano, there were nine shortstops and second basemen combined with that number. And that includes Hank Blalock, who isn't really a second baseman.
Now I'm set with outfield and middle infield, so I can turn to the corners.
Picks I love, round five: Lance Berkman, What the Hell. Luis Gonzalez, Sodo Oh No.
A question mark: John Smoltz, Mariner Optimist. The M.O. just said he didn't see the logic in using a third-round pick on a guy who is going to pitch around 70 innings. Perhaps a fifth round pick is different.
Picks I love, round six: Sodo Oh No took Morgan Ensberg, who I was strongly considering. The Mariner Optimist runs strong with Jose Guillen -- he had a heckuva year, and is the biggest outfield stick available. Mark Mulder, Mariner Musings.
A question mark: Alfonso Soriano, San Shin. I know, I know, I just gave my rationale -- but is he really this much better than Jeff Kent? I'm comfortable with this, but it's not a pick I would make unless a) I wasn't deeply frightened by the prospects of ending up with Mark Grudzielanek or someone of that ilk, and b) I didn't have a list of seven other players I'd love to have about equally. Got another selection in precisely seven picks, so that works out. I think.
posted by Jefflink 9:23 PM 
Friday, February 06, 2004
"Who Says Monks Can't be Mariners Fans?": That's the rhetorical question the Seattle Times asks about Bill Porter, a Buddhist monk, zen practitioner and lover of baseball who translates Chinese poetry. Port Townsend, where Porter lives, is home of Copper Canyon Press, the publisher of his new book.
Poetry and baseball have always gone together like peanut butter and jelly, like Edgar Martinez and doubles into the gap -- like Copper Canyon and Chinese poetry. The press' Sam Hamill (who you may remember as the organizer of Poets Against the War) is one of the foremost translators of classical Chinese verse in the world, and a fine poet in his own right. I'm reading "Crossing the Yellow River" right now, Hamill's translation of 300 Chinese poems, and it's excellent.
But what makes baseball resonate for poets? The history of the game, the pastoral tapestry of green grass that teams play on, the fact that some of our finest writers were fans? Ask Lawrence Ferlinghetti, one of the poets Hamill identifies as a hero. His "Baseball Canto" (which you can hear in Real Audio here) is a joyful homage to the game and all the cultures that love it. There's a reason that Annie Savoy quotes Walt Whitman at the end of Bull Durham: "I see great things in baseball. It's our game--the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous dyspeptic set. Repair these losses and be a blessing to us."
Poets keep on writing about the game. Last year I read Todd Fuller's biography-cum-poetry collection about the life of Mose Yellowhorse, a Pawnee pitcher. It's called "Sixty Feet Six Inches And Other Distances From Home," and it's part narrative, part selected poems, part cartoon collection ... a mosaic, kind of like America. I lent the book to my neighbor Jeremy, a former ballplayer who interned at Copper Canyon and now helps run a literary journal called Arbutus. Talk about synergy. You can even check out twopoems (not about baseball) I wrote for Arbutus. Double synergy. I'm working on a new one about Roberto Clemente, too.
One thing that resonates about Porter's story for me is what decorates his living room: An Ichiro bobblehead next to an image of Buddhist deity Kuan-Yin. Talk about a blend of cultures. That's baseball, and that's America.
Tim Kurkjian has a great new article about the potential for a true World Series for baseball -- an international tourney once every four years. Wouldn't this be a dream for any baseball fan? I mean, forget the whole "national pride" thing, even -- just imagine the dream teams you could see play. Matsui playing next to Ichiro? Vlad Guerrero next to Sammy Sosa? An infield with a double-play combination of Boone and A-Rod? Making it an Olympic-type affair you have to wait for would keep it special, too. I'm smiling just thinking about it.
MBSBL Draft Update: Talk about the one-two punch. With two slots left before my selection, I had my eye on two players -- Aubrey Huff and Richard Hidalgo.
[Incidentally, I always draft Aubrey Huff, even if he's not clearly the best available player. He's eligible at third, first, and the outfield. He's a young lefty with pop. What's not to like? It's like when you go to the bar and there are a number of beers that catch your eye: if you're not in the mood for anything in particular, you might pass up Guinness for an old standby like Alaska Amber. Aubrey Huff is my Alaska Amber.]
But in this draft, he's Cracking the Safe's Alaska Amber. And Hidalgo belongs to Sodo Oh No, who it seems are drafting with the same mind I am -- we've stolen each other's last three picks, and it's only the fourth round.
So that left me with a bunch of players I had rated basically equally. All the top-tier middle infielders are gone, so I'll wait on that. The only pitcher I would have taken here, Javier Vazquez, went earlier in the round. So, after considering two other players, I went with Brian Giles, who has the third-highest OPS left on the board.
Why did I take him over David Ortiz and Matt Stairs, the two higher-OPS players? Defense and park effects, basically. Giles can play center field, a more critical position than first or right, and he can play it pretty well according to the Diamond Mind ratings. Ortiz and Stairs are both basically butchers in the field, and I wasn't ready to take my DH yet.
posted by Jefflink 9:21 AM 
Thursday, February 05, 2004
A FoxSports preview of the AL West disses and dismisses the Marines' chances in two sentences and three reasons: "Why not the Mariners? Three reasons: They weren't good enough last year, their best players are well past their primes, and their front office has systematically weakened the team this off-season."
I wish I didn't think that was spot-on.
posted by Jefflink 3:21 PM 
Idle, irresponsible speculation department: From Scott Miller's Sportsline column: "And depending on how the Mariners do out of the gate, keep this in mind: [new M's hitting coach Paul] Molitor very well could become the club's next manager if things begin to unravel under Bob Melvin."
This isn't going to happen. Still, Molitor is almost the prototype for a successful manager -- an overachieving, unassuming, cerebral former player. If not here, he'll manage someplace soon if he wants to.
Since he's doing a fine job of the round-by-round, I thought I'd do something a little different -- more color-commentary like. Just think of me as Bobby Heenan to Corey's Gorilla Monsoon.
Picks I love, round one: Alex Rodriguez, Sodo Oh No. The best all-around player in baseball, and a shortstop, slides to number five. Javy Lopez, Mariner Optimist. A catcher with over 40 homers is extremely valuable, especially in a year where Mike Piazza wasn't Mike Piazza.
A question mark: Ichiro before Bonds? Mark Prior before Pedro or Jason Schmidt?
Picks I love, round two: Jim Edmonds, Sodo Oh No. As I mentioned, I was waiting to take Edmonds (the only OF with an OPS over 1.000 left) with the next pick, but Mike and John left me feeling like the guy who invited Aaron Boone to play pick-up basketball. Vlad Guerrero, Fire Bavasi.
A question mark: Jorge Posada as a second catcher/DH already for the Optimist? There are really only two catchers that are worth drafting in the first two rounds -- and Corey got both of them. I'll be interested to see how this strategy works out. My instinct says it's better to take the best available player for yourself as opposed to denying a valuable player to others, but we'll see.
Picks I love, round three: Bill Mueller, Onesixteeners. Another player I coveted that was snared before I could grab him. Kevin Brown, The Safe. I had him rated ever-so-slightly below Schmidt, and they got him four picks later. Marcus Giles, Mariner Optimist. The last second baseman (or middle infielder, for that matter) with an OPS above .900. Scott Rolen, Fire Bavasi. Not just a great bat at a thin position, but a very good defensive player as well. This was a pretty solid round.
A question mark: Isn't a bit early for a relief pitcher, even one so dominant as Eric Gagne?
posted by Jefflink 10:52 AM 
Bavasi gets outmaneuvered for Burks. The Mariners apparently offered Ellis Burks more money, but Theo Epstein was able to convince the ancient DH that the Sox offered a better chance "for a championship sendoff to a stellar 18-year career."
I know that many in the blogosphere have doubts about Burks and his knees, but he would have been a valuable masher off the bench and an insurance policy in the event of an injury to Edgar -- for just over a million bucks. The Red Sox got him for even less, below the million mark, because Epstein has improved their roster instead of decimating it.
It's too bad we missed out on him.
posted by Jefflink 9:30 AM 
Wednesday, February 04, 2004
Ordonez Watch: Magglio Ordonez is talking about what he wants from a long-term deal. He mouths the expected platitudes about wanting to stay in Chicago, but then cuts to the chase -- he wants Vlad/Tejada money.
It's two months before the season starts. It's half-a-year before the trade deadline. But I thinks this eviscerates whatever flagging hopes I had for the M's acquiring Maggs. Two reasons:
*If we wouldn't give Vlad money to Vlad, we sure won't give it to Maggs. And frankly, I think that's defensible. He's a great player and a solid citizen, but he's three years older than Guerrero and not as good. Hence, us trading for him and signing him to an extension is about as likely as me never hearing about Janet Jackson's boob again. Also:
*The Mariners have openly balked at expensive rent-a-players. Call it the Offerman Principle: when confronted with the chance to add an expensive, impactful veteran who could walk at the end of the season, the team turns to the serviceable mediocrity.
I'll be delighted if I'm proven wrong. But I'm not feeling optimistic about the M's getting Ordonez or Carlos "Scott Boras is my agent" Beltran, now or in the middle of the year.
posted by Jefflink 11:26 PM 
MBSBL Draft Update: In retrospect, the Schmidt pick worked out pretty well, though I was sweating a bit while waiting for my turn. The idea was to get an ace and then get a top-notch infield bat on the way back -- I wanted either Melvin Mora or Bill Mueller, and would've been happy with either one.
As it turned out, I started a run on top-line starters. Esteban Loiaza, Tim Hudson and Kevin Brown went in quick succession. So when the 116ers took Mueller, I was a little worried that What In The Name of All That Is Good And Decent Happened would take Mora, leaving me to go back to the drawing board. Fortunately, he opted for the best available reliever, Eric Gagne, and I happily took the best Melvin not named King Buzzo.
Why Mora? Well, this reveals a bit about my draft strategy -- I'm crazy for position flexibility. Mora can play any one of the outfield positions, second base and shortstop -- and all pretty well according to the Diamond Mind defensive rankings. I've got him penciled in at shortstop, where his .921 OPS is almost 50 points higher than his closest competitor (Edgar Renteria), but if there's a tasty shortstop on the board when it's my turn to pick again, I can slide Melvin to second base or the outfield. That way I can go any number of ways with my next pick.
I'll admit to blanching about picking a relative no-name, possible one-year wonder like Mora over players like Jason Giambi, Nomar, Derek Jeter or Miguel Tejada. But his OPS, EqA and defensive ratings were all better than those numbers for each of the next five shortstops on the board. Hard to pass that up, and I wasn't going to do so twice.
Twelve picks to go before I draw again. Time to relax and make a new wish list.
posted by Jefflink 12:56 PM 
Maddux? While I was checking out what people were saying about today's Larry Stone column, I found this on FoxSports: "Greg Maddux's agent, Scott Boras, told the Tribune's Teddy Greenstein that five teams are pursuing his client. The five teams are believed to be the Cubs, Dodgers, Cardinals, Mariners and Orioles."
The source on this, the Trib itself, seems more circumspect, saying only that "St. Louis, Seattle and Baltimore also might be involved" in addition to the Cubs and Dodgers.
I don't buy it. I think Maddux will end up in Chicago because a) that seems to be where he wants to go, and b) Boras is not to be trusted. The only concrete offer on the table has come from the Cubs, and I'd be surprised if that changed. Neither the Dodgers nor the Mariners really have need for Maddux other than to create trade opportunities; the Orioles would make some sense (they could use pitching a lot more than the other teams), but they've spent so much already this offseason.
Looks to me like Boras is just trying to create suitors for Maddux to drive up his price, a la Pudge.
And about that Stone column: Don't tease me, Larry. He lists a litany of players we'd all love to have (Ordonez, Beltran, Trot Nixon) that the Blogosphere has talked about incessantly.
One name jumped out, though, as one that hasn't been discussed before:
"In fact, some baseball insiders believe that if the Royals stumble badly, first baseman Mike Sweeney might be available as well. Sweeney, who will make $11 million a year through 2007, has a limited no-trade clause but would likely waive it for the Mariners; his wife is from Tacoma."
Okay, even though the Mariners could sorely use another bopper, and even though Sweeney is a very good player that I like a lot, this doesn't make a lot of sense to me given the way the roster is currently constructed.
For this year, what would they do with him? He plays first and can DH. Clearly, we're set at DH barring injury. At first base -- as much as it would improve the team -- I don't see them benching Olerud so a new import can play. Platooning the two players wouldn't happen, and wouldn't make sense anyway: Sweeney's the rare right-handed hitter who mashes lefties and righties equally well. Unless they got rid of Olerud (don't kid yourself) or Edgar has a serious injury (let's hope not), I can't see this happening.
Plus, for the long-term, I'm not sold on this. He'll turn 31 this year, and if back problems scared some people off of Vladimir Freakin' Guerrero, I can't see committing $11 million a year for three years to a first baseman with a creaky spine -- even one as talented as Sweeney.
A Trade in MLB: The Yankees have added Rangers' third baseman Mike Lamb for a minor league pitcher. At first blush, this seems like a great, low-risk move for the Yanks. Lamb has proven that he can hit, and Jose Garcia is a 22-year-old who spent last year in A-ball. Frankly, I think the Mariners could've used a player like Lamb.
MBSBL Draft Update: Hey, we're back and rolling! Now that I'm about to make my third pick, I can admit to second-guessing my previous selection (Jason Schmidt) over the last few days. The two players I really wanted, Jorge Posada and Jim Edmonds, were taken just before I could get at them. I figured that taking Schmidt, my top-rated pitcher left, was better than grabbing one of a bunch of bats that I had rated relatively equally. Now it looks like my pick started a run on quality pitchers, as Esteban Loiaza and Tim Hudson went right after I grabbed my second Giant in as many rounds. I pick again in just a few -- will any other aces be left by the time it rolls back around? We'll see.
And welcome to the blogosphere ...:Dead Reckoning, a Mariner news blog that showed up in my referrer logs today. Inspired by the mighty USS Mariner. David Cameron asks and we shall receive.
posted by Jefflink 4:57 PM 
Ordonez Watch: According to the Boston Herald, the M's are thinking about trading Winn and pitching for either Magglio or Geoff Jenkins. I wish there were more to this than the following throwaway reference:
"Flush with about $8 million in cash now that closer Kaz Sasaki flew the coop, the Seattle Mariners [stats, schedule] are weighing trading away outfielder Randy Winn and some pitching for either the White Sox' Magglio Ordonez or Milwaukee's Geoff Jenkins. "
The fact that there's so little here, that it's from a Boston paper, and (most of all) that it would make a lot of sense leads me to believe it isn't more than a rumor.
"The Rainiers' rotation could feature Craig Anderson and Jeff Heaverlo, holdovers from last year, and Blackley, Nageotte and Madritsch. Then there's Rett Johnson, who won 11 games between Tacoma and San Antonio last season, and Cha-Sueng Baek, a 23-year-old Korean who was added to the 40-man roster this winter. That's seven starters for five spots."
For some time now, I've been meaning to make the case for moving one or two of these pitchers in trade. That's coming. But for now, I'll throw some optimism out there and say "boy, having this kind of pitching talent and depth is good, for a lot of reasons." And remember, this is just AAA starting pitchers -- it doesn't consider lower level pitchers like Felix Hernandez or AAA relievers like Aaron Taylor.
Also from the TNT:
"Bavasi has mentioned [Jose] Lopez as being the long-term solution at shortstop. [Benny] Looper went as far as to say Lopez could play in the majors right now as a 20-year-old."
Looper's loopy if he thinks that, but I think it's just hyperbole designed to demonstrate how good they think this kid is.
posted by Jefflink 9:34 AM 
Monday, February 02, 2004
Non-Sports Department: We've officially entered The Most Boring Month In Sports, where post-Super Bowl ennui continues until March Madness. Plus, the upper-left corner of this bad boy says that it's my blog about "the Seattle Mariners and writing and politics and whatever else comes to mind," but so far it's been all Mariners, all the time. So let's do some other stuff:
Maybe you've checked out some of my recent articles in the left bar. One of the unfortunate things that comes with writing about issues you're fascinated by is the tyranny of word count: you can't get all the interesting background into the stories. Okinawa, home of my wife's family, has an incredibly rich history, culture and natural environment. Since I can't illustrate that in a 1,400-word news piece, I'll try a brief sketch here:
Historically, the Okinawa islands were the Kingdom of the Ryukyus, an an independent regime composed of fishers, farmers and traders. This is a comprehensive history if you have some time. There are much shorter and to the point chronologies here and here.
The chain of about 75 islands contains staggering beauty and biodiversity, supporting around 400 kinds of coral, 1,000 types of reef fish, sea turtles and marine mammals. If you go nowhere else on the web today, check out the Okinawa digital archive (in English) and its fantastic photo gallery. My favorite shots here are probably of northerly Manzamo, on the main island, and the stunning photos of outlying islands.
My most recent piece in the Christian Science Monitor talks about how the U.S. military considers Okinawa valuable because of its critical strategic location: you can see where the islands are from this map. This location also means that the islands are uniquely suited to be trading ports. Historically, the Kingdom of the Ryukyus traded all over the place, with China, Japan, Laos, Korea, Vietnam, the Phillipines and Indonesia, among others. This helps explain why Okinawan culture is at least as influenced by China as by Japan, and includes a blend of many other places, too.
If this doesn't convince you that Okinawa is a completely distinct society from mainland Japan, maybe the language issue will. Okinawans have always had their own language, uchinaguchi, which older people continue to speak. In my experience, older people speak primarily uchinaguchi; folks over 40 speak both uchinaguchi and Japanese, often shifting from language to language in midsentence.
Uchinaguchi is also called Okinawa hougen, the Japanese word for 'dialect' -- many linguists, though, say it isn't really a dialect, but an independent language. This page does a good job of distinguishing between the two languages. Hear the language in RealPlayer: If you?re familiar with Japanese at all, you'll notice that the two languages sound very little alike. The prevailing theory I've heard is that uchinaguchi and Japanese stem from a common ancestral language, but evolved differently.
Fun fact: Okinawans are the longest-lived people on Earth, so people routinely live into their 80s, 90s, and 100s.
Probably the most impressive dance is Eisa, which is equal parts dancing, drumming, signing, drama and athletic event. I always liked Japanese Taiko drumming: my wife always hated it, saying it was boring. Now I understand why: Japanese drumming isn't boring as it is, but put it next to Eisa, and there's no freakin' comparison. Here's a picture. I wish I had video to upload, because that only shows you the color. You don't get the leaping, flinging of drums, singing and whistling, haunting shamisen (three-stringed banjo covered in snakeskin) music and dramatic interludes that make the Eisa experience memorable.
Fun fact: the shamisen is also called the sanshin, just like this humble blog.
Stone carving techniques are also used to make shi-sa, a sort of dog/lion hybrid which are omnipresent. They're twin guardian statues that appear on every house/or business that are supposed to welcome your friends and scare away evil.
A traditional story helps explain the importance of the shi-sa. Here are lots of shi-sa pictures.
There's one Shi-Sa in Kari's mom's small village (Tomori) that predates Columbus, and another that dates to the 16th century. This is the one that pre-dates Columbus: Remember this photo and the greenery that surrounds it.
This post is longer than I had intended already, and there's lots more I'd like to write about that I'll have to save for another day. But since Okinawa is a gorgeous south Pacific island, let me leave you with some more photographs. Here's a photo gallery of rare fish of Okinawa, some nice shots of the landscape, and a webcam of Japan Air Lines' exclusive Okuma Beach Resort (the only Okinawa webcam I could find).
One more thing: In Geov Parrish's interview with Joseph Wilson, the former diplomat comes off as articulate, insightful and clear-eyed. It's easy to portray people who disagree with you as wild-eyed partisan tools of the other side, but that's clearly not what Wilson is about. Sure, he's a vocal opponent of the current administration -- and who wouldn't be, given what happened with his wife -- but the interview reveals that he isn't afraid to challenge conventional wisdom on either side, and that he's passionate about American democracy. Worth a read.
[If you're not registered with the 'Trib, here is the Williams sound bite I'm quoting:
"Maggs [Magglio Ordonez] and Carlos Lee are not going anywhere," Williams said to a standing-room-only SoxFest crowd of about 700. "We do not expect to make any deals at this point. I don't think there are any matches."]
In a related bit, broadcaster Ken "Hawk" Harrelson "also made some news by saying of Ordonez: "Maggs has already decided he'll be a free agent after the season. He's a wonderful guy and a wonderful ballplayer, but he's going to leave.""
Wish all broadcasters were that straight-up and forthcoming.
Harrelson's probably right, and I think that Williams knows it. If they're 10 games back before the trading deadline, let's just say that would be a whole different climate than SoxFest. I'm confident of that, and I wish I was confident that Bavasi would make a run at this great player.
Forecast looks gloomy, at least for now, regarding any major M's move.
It's rare that I'll say this, but Steve Kelley gets it just right here. A very strong piece that hits on the M's creative accounting, failure to make bold moves, and the resultant fan disappointment.
Geez, it's paragraphs like that one that probably made Corey put me under Pessimist Blogs.
Wondering why the Mariners are thinking about giving Ron Villone a $1-1.5 million deal (besides the fact that Bavasi loves overpaying for mediocre talent)? He's represented by Scott Boras. I'd like to think that Bavasi's personal friendship with Boras has nothing to do with this. And, to be fair, it probably doesn't -- Bavasi overpaid Ibanez, too, and Boras didn't cut us a deal with Pudge. But it's worth noting, and that's an interesting article that goes deeper than your average "poke at Boras" piece.
The Times' sports mailbag has some hilarious stuff. The first letter is from a guy so angry that we didn't get Pudge or another big-name player that he isn't renewing season tickets. Fair enough. But then we enter Bizarro world with a letter wondering why we'd consider "downgrading the catcher position" by benching Dan Wilson (!); after that, somebody accuses Box Melvin of having obsessive-compulsive disorder. Ah the vox populi.
International Signings Department [Non-Asia Division]: We've signed a 17-year-old Australian kid who has been clocked at 139 -- 139 kilometers per hour, that is, just under 90 mph. Maybe he and Travis Blackley and Chris Snelling can speak Australian to each other.