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A Stroll Down Memory Lane, Part 3

December 1, 1997:

Picked up the team option on LHP Jamie Moyer contract for '98; claimed RHP Cam Smith off of waivers from San Diego. [11/26]

Well, that's one advantage to having such an awful farm system: you've got room for waiver claims. Smith isn't really much better than Mac Suzuki, which makes him one of the best pitchers in the organization, which is another way of saying Piniella's got this friend by the name of Jack Armstrong, who needs work, and...

As relevant now as it was eight years ago? Moyer, then 35, was coming off arguably the most successful season of his career, posting 17 wins and a 3.86 ERA in 30 starts for a good Mariner team that was thin on pitching. Given his age, track record, and unimpressive repertoire, there was reason to be skeptical about what Moyer would do in 1998, but the Mariners went ahead and gave it a shot, deciding that the possible return outweighed the cost ($2m). All Jamie's done since then is pitch effectively into his 40s, longer than anyone could have ever imagined after his first few years in the big leagues.

Now we face a similar decision - bring him back, or let him go to greener pastures to ply his trade? Not that greener pastures exist for a guy like Moyer, who's more at home in Safeco than he is anywhere else. He's still got the same unimpressive repertoire, he's still got the recent struggles, and now he's 43 years old. The issues surrounding his status on the roster are the same as they were in 1997, right down to the butt-ugly condition of the starting rotation. Does the potential benefit of bringing Jamie back still outweigh the cost, or have things changed in recent years? How much are you willing to pay a guy who drives faster than he throws?

Of course, the real question is, after so many years of pitching well with the same stuff, why do we still doubt Moyer's ability to pitch effectively? Results should speak for themselves, no matter how a guy looks on the field. People are generally optimistic about Ichiro's hitting despite a batting style that wouldn't hold up in Little League, so the skepticism regarding Jamie seems more than a little unwarranted. Understanding that he won't be able to throw a ball when he's 90, Jamie will reach a point at which he's no longer capable of pitching in the Majors, but he clearly didn't get there in 2005, so what reason do we have to believe that he'll get there in 2006?

Opposing hitters will tell us when Jamie's done. Until then, just relax and enjoy the ride.

As far as Cam Smith is concerned, I'm not really sure where Kahrl gets off calling him one of the best pitchers in the organization - at the time, he was a 24 year old coming off a 7.03 ERA in his first exposure to AA. He posted a ton of strikeouts, which is neat, I guess, but like Matt Thornton, he probably knew more about the rotational kinetics of the ball than he did about where it was actually going. Smith was one of those guys with a live arm and nothing else, the kinds of guys who get shot after shot after shot, hoping to land in an organization that's willing to overlook their lousy performances because their raw stuff is so impressive.

Smith is still pitching professionally; he made 26 appearances for AAA Durham last year, putting up a 4.54 ERA and another lousy walk rate. In 13 years of pitching, Smith has never once reached the Majors, presumably because teams view his miserable control as too big of a hurdle. It would be one thing if he showed any kind of improvement, but that hasn't been the case:

pre-Seattle: 5.99 BB/9, 9.18 K/9
with Seattle: 8.52 BB/9, 11.3 K/9
post-Seattle: 6.86 BB/9, 9.44 K/9

At 32, Smith is running out of time. If his strikeouts are any indication, he still has good stuff, but he'll never go anywhere until he's able to throw strikes more consistently, and screwy mechanics have already led to one major shoulder operation (I'm guessing there's a link between the walks, the delivery, and the injury). He says that his best baseball moments have been pitching in big league camps; unless everything starts to click pretty soon, that might be the farthest he ever gets.

An interesting dichotomy - Cam Smith was a pitching prospect who racked up lots of strikeouts and lots of walks. When he switched to full-time relief upon joining the Mariners, he remained every bit as bad as he was out of the rotation. Meanwhile, one of his teammates in Lancaster and New Haven - Brian Fuentes - was a pitching prospect who racked up lots of strikeouts and lots of walks, but who started to figure things out when he became a reliever. A throw-in in the Jeff Cirillo trade a few years back, Fuentes is now one of the premier left-handed relievers in baseball, a 2005 All Star with 31 saves under his belt as Colorado's closer. The point? Stockpiling live arms to fill out minor league pitching staffs is always a good idea, because you never know when one of them is suddenly going to "get it" and turn into a damn fine pitcher.

But, Ms. Kahrl, strikeouts alone do not a good pitcher make. Let's try not to get too far ahead of ourselves, shall we?