Mariners Make Two Moves, Add Veteran-ness

Over the course of the last two days, the Mariners added two veteran players to their roster. One move makes some sense, its hard to discern the reason behind the other. On Friday, the Mariners signed pitcher Jeremy Bonderman to a minor league contract. The very next day the Mariners signed “outfielder”/designated hitter Raul Ibanez to a $2.75 million, one-year contract. Both of these moves are similar in nature yet one is rational and the other doesn’t make much sense given the current state of our roster.

First, lets examine Jeremy Bonderman and what value he might bring to the Mariners. Jeremy Bonderman is lucky to be given the chance to pitch at all in 2013. He has dealt with major injuries for the last five years including major shoulder and elbow reconstruction surgeries. I’m no expert, but those body parts seem to be fairly critical to the act of throwing a baseball. His last full season was in 2010 and 2007 before that. By no means should we be expecting Jeremy Bonderman to slot right into the rotation and make 25-30 starts next year. What he does represent is a low risk, all upside move that could return some value. Minor league contracts carry very little commitment and if Bonderman isn’t able to compete for a roster spot in Spring Training, he can be released with little harm done.

Raul Ibanez is a completely different animal, however. Ibanez is probably familiar to most of you, he played for the Mariners from 1996-2000 and then again from 2004-2008. Ibanez is now 40, and played for the Yankees last year as a left-handed DH and bat off the bench. Perhaps most notably, Ibanez pinch-hit for Alex Rodriguez in Game 3 of the Division Series and singlehandedly won the game for the Yankees by hitting both a game tying home run and the game winning home run. I want to examine this notable performance in detail before I talk about how Ibanez fits (or doesn’t) into the Mariners plans.

I talked briefly about some factors that cause baseball teams to overvalue players on the open market in my post about Josh Hamilton. For a player like Josh Hamilton, his name recognition and star status drove his price much higher than his value. For someone like Raul Ibanez, his price was driven higher because of his performance in the playoffs last year. This tendency to overvalue “postseason heroes” has caused teams to overvalue players based on a very recent, and very small sample size.

The Giants recently gave a $20 million, three-year contract to 37-year-old Marco Scutaro largely driven because of the performance he had during the Giants’ run to the World Series. This is the same Marco Scutaro who was traded from the Boston Red Sox to the Colorado Rockies last offseason for a pittance and who was basically given to the San Francisco Giants by the Rockies in a midseason trade. If the Red Sox and the Rockies so lowly valued Scutaro, could he really have improved his skills in half a season with the Giants to deserve a significant investment and multi-year contract? Probably not.

What the Mariners have done is bring in a player in Ibanez who is riding a wave of notoriety  based on a short sample from the postseason last year. He was brought in to bring experience and a veteran presence to the locker room but his on-field contributions have been overvalued. Ibanez, a left-handed designated hitter and part-time outfielder, takes the place of both Eric Thames and Mike Carp on the roster; both of whom are younger and better than Ibanez. By making this move, we see exactly how much the Mariners value veteran-ness, experience, and recent postseason success, its worth $2.75 million to them.

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