The second in a non-alphabetical and irregularly updated series of review pieces for each(?) of the players we predicted last spring.
LL/USSM Community: .247/.329/.457
Actual Line: .221/.321/.382
Signs that a team's big money investment in a slugging first baseman isn't working out as planned:
1) Team benches him for five days to change his stance
2) He doesn't hit a home run in his next 89 trips to the plate
3) Team happy to see improvement
People everywhere expected a bounce-back season from Sexson. Smart people. People like us. While everyone was aware of the nightmare summer he had in 2007, it seemed impossible that a hitter of Sexson's caliber could become that finished that quickly. So people looked for improvement. Even if it came only in the area of a little BABIP regression, people looked for improvement, because it was an almost alien feeling to see a guy like Richie Sexson slugging under .400.
I suppose there's some symbolism, then, in the fact that a hitter we were counting on to be one of our primary run producers got released in July.
Sexson's season and that of the Mariners mirrored each other. On April 20th, the Mariners picked up their biggest win of the year, hanging on to beat the Angels 4-2 with a clutch RRS strikeout of Garret Anderson. The M's pulled themselves up to 10-10 with the win and stood two games behind the division lead. On that day, Sexson's OPS stood at a season-high .875, having put the finishing touches on a three-homer weekend series that had a fourth one robbed by Torii Hunter. Up to that point, the M's were playing competitive baseball, and Richie Sexson was a big reason why.
Then it all came crashing down. The M's got to 11-10 the next game, but that one aside, after Anaheim it was all downhill for both Sexson and the team around him. The Mariners would go 24-45 over the next two and a half months, and over the same span of time Sexson would hit .214 with a suspension and a benching. At one point, Sexson - whose acquisition was intended to give the Mariners a fearsome power bat in the middle of the order - went 96 plate appearances between home runs, and while a change to his batting stance helped drive up his average and OBP, the power never came back, and in early July the team decided enough was enough and sent Richie on his way. He'd get claimed by the Yankees to be part of a platoon, but he got cut by them a month later, too, and he spent the final six weeks of the season unemployed. A four-year contract that began with high hopes ended as possibly the last Major League contract of Sexson's career.
From the whole Sexson saga, we can learn (or, I suppose, confirm) two things:
1) It is generally foolish to give a big contract to any non-elite slugging first baseman on the wrong side of his career. These players don't age very well, and there is no more shining example than Sexson, whose OPS+ dropped from 144 in 2005 to 89 in 2008. They're bad investments, and it's my hope that this organization never tries to do the same thing again, because it was an awful, awful mistake. Even at his Mariner best, back in 2005, Sexson was lousy in the field, and his .399 wOBA* from first base only got him up to a total value of about three wins over replacement. In other words, Richie Sexson's best year as a Mariner was worse than Adrian Beltre's 2008. His worst year, meanwhile, was a full game below replacement level, at a time when the team needed him most. So our return on investment was moderate success in lost seasons and sub-replacement-level performance when the team could've used him. Bill Bavasi now has a few of these on his resume.
2) The 2008 Mariners didn't have a plan. At least, they didn't have a plan that was particularly well thought out. When Sexson served his suspension in early May, the team replaced him at first base with Miguel Cairo. When Sexson got benched to work on his stance a few weeks later, the team replaced him with Miguel Cairo. After Sexson got released in July, the team replaced him with Miguel Cairo and Bryan LaHair. Competitive teams have depth. Especially at first base. Next to DH, first base should be the easiest position to fill with a decent bat in the event that the starter is struggling or injured. Bats like Sean Casey and Eric Hinske. After cutting Greg Norton in April, the Mariners had a pinch-runner and a non-prospect. In my mind, Miguel Cairo is a symptom. A mass embedded deep within your brain is a tell-tale sign that you have terminal cancer. Having Miguel Cairo as your backup at first base is a tell-tale sign that your team is fucked. The 2008 Seattle Mariners were built to win, but only on the surface, and as soon as a drop of rain fell on their newspaper hat, the whole thing was destroyed.
Unless I'm not seeing something, Richie Sexson isn't going to get a Major League contract this winter. I imagine he'll get an NRI, and he might even win a roster spot as a bench bat or platoon half if he impresses next March, but he's not going to start, meaning that at the age of 34, four years after being one of the most sought-after bats on the market, Richie Sexson's career as a regular is finished. At a cost of fifty million dollars, he rewarded the Mariners with approximately three total wins over replacement, with nearly all of his value coming in the first year of his deal and the final three years ranging between mediocre and horrific. Bill Bavasi made a lot of mistakes, and this team is still paying for quite a few of them, but none were higher-profile than the slugging first baseman who spent the final year and a half of his Seattle career getting booed, and this particular lapse in judgment shall not soon be forgotten by a city that most of the time is all too forgiving.
If Richie Sexson did anything for us in 2008, it was to make the fanbase care again. He just didn't make them care in the way that Bavasi planned, and in large part because of that it's not a stretch to say that several people lost their jobs. This is an organization that needed an awful lot of undoing.