Please check out the Hippeaux's weekly posts at SNY affiliate, It's About The Money.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Offseason Prospectus #10: The Seattle Mariners

I was listening to the Baseball Today coverage of the Winter Meetings this week. On Tuesday, Peter Pascarelli reported something which surprised me, bur probably shouldn't have. Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik has told all player representatives that he wants to be "in on" all negotiations. In other words, he wants to be given the opportunity to bid on every player, even if that player isn't an obvious match with the Mariners. This is great news for Seattle's fans, suggesting that Zduriencik has both the financial resources and the creativity to turn the Mariners from a pleasant surprise (which their 85-win '09 campaign certainly was) to a true contender.

He began by poaching the sparkplug from the division rival Angels. The Mariners signed Chone Figgins to a four-year, $36 Million contract. To me, that looks like a steal. Figgins is 32-years-old and coming off of arguably the best season of his career. He gets on bases, reeks havoc on the basepaths, battles for every at-bat, and is an excellent defender at third base. He also possesses a defensive versatility which is helpful for Zduriencik and his "open door policy." Figgins could spend some time at second base and in the outfield before this contract is up. I personally expected Figgins would get a deal for at least $10-12 Million per season, so the fact the Zduriencik brought him in for 2/3 that cost this early in the Hot Stove season is especially impressive. Now, the question is, when you have arguably the two best leadoff hitters in the game, who bats first?

Free Agents:

Miguel Batista (39) RHRP
Erik Bedard (31) LHSP
Adrian Beltre (31) 3B
Russell Branyan (34) 1B
Endy Chavez (32) OF
Mike Sweeney (36) DH


David Aardsma (28) RHCL
Franklin Gutierrez (27) CF
Felix Hernandez (24) RHSP
Ryan Langerhans (30) OF
Mark Lowe (27) RHRP

ETA 2010?:

Mike Carp (24) 1B
Doug Fister (26) RHSP
Bryan Lahair (27) OF
Adam Moore (26) C
Michael Saunders (23) OF
Matt Tuiasosopo (24) 3B

The arrival of Figgins is, I hope, an indication that the Mariners want Ichiro to move into the middle of the order. Seattle hasn't had a consistent .300 hitter, other than Ichiro, since Edgar Martinez retired. (Martinez will be eligible for the Hall of Fame this coming year.) As great as Ichiro is leading off an inning (.331 lifetime average), he's even better with runners in scoring position (.340). His presence in the three hole will help take the pressure off Franklin Gutierrez, Jose Lopez, and Ken Griffey Jr., none of which are legitimate middle-of-the-order presences at this stage of their careers.

The Mariners are still without a cleanup hitter. Power is a problem in Seattle, and not just because Safeco is a relatively spacious park. The Mariners had only two guys with 20+ HR in '09 and the team leader in that category, Russell Branyan, is a free agent. Seattle finished 13th in the AL in slugging percentage in '09. Only Oakland was worse. Obviously, in the post-"Juiced Ball" era teams can win without a gaggle of sluggers, but it still helps to have at least one.

The Mariners have to decide whether they believe that Mike Carp or Michael Saunders can develop into that kind of threat very quickly. Both are high upside hitters, but both are very young. While blocking either of them with a blockbuster signing like Jason Bay (rumors have abounded about Seattle's interest) might be a mistake, a stopgap measure who can join Saunders, Carp, and Griffey in the 1B/DH/LF mix could be in the team's best interest. Such players are bountifully available this offseason. Good fits could include Hideki Matsui, Aubrey Huff, Hank Blalock, Carlos Delgado, Troy Glaus, or even a resigning of Branyan.

The Mariners could also be in the market for a starting pitcher. King Felix is clearly the Ace and the Mariners have a nice selection of good young arms, but Brandon Morrow and Ryan Rowland-Smith have had a hard time staying healthy, Doug Fister and Jason Vargas are still adapting to pitching in the bigs, and Ian Snell was very inconsistent during his tenure in Pittsburgh. Last year's rotation benefitted a great deal from the stabilizing veteran presence of Jarrod Washburn. An innings-eater like Washburn, Jon Garland, or Doug Davis could be very useful over the short term, but Zduriencik will vigilantly avoid signing such a pitcher for anything more than two years. The inflated contracts of Washburn (4 yrs./$37.5 Mil.) and Carlos Silva (4 yrs./$48 Mil.) contributed a great deal to the undoing of his predecessor, Bill Bavasi.

Baseball fans in Seattle can look forward to 2010. During the late '90s and early '00s the Mariners were among the game's most successful franchises. Zduriencik and Wakamatsu appear to have their team headed back in that direction. The farm system is solid. Silva's is the only ugly contract still on the books. Zduriencik has made some excellent trades (for Franklin Gutierrez, Ian Snell, David Aardsma, Daniel Cortes) and very cagey short-term investments (Russell Branyan, Jack Wilson, Mike Sweeney, Griffey) during his first year as GM. And Wakamatsu got the most out of a team with little depth and limited offensive potential.

One can't criticize the commitment of Seattle's ownership. They've been willing to spend, averaging almost $108 Million in payroll over the last three seasons. So far the Mariners have only $56 Million in contractual obligations for 2010, so there is money in the coffers, and, more importantly, there are wise men deciding how to spend it. It wouldn't surprise me at all if Zduriencik made only a couple small plays over the next months and set aside assets so he could resign Felix Hernandez and pursue a couple of big-name free agents in 2011.

Projected 2010 Opening Day Lineup (Revised 2/6):

3B Chone Figgins (S)
CF Franklin Gutierrez (R)
RF Ichiro Suzuki (L)
DH Milton Bradley (S)
2B Jose Lopez (R)
LF Ken Griffey Jr. (L)
1B Casey Kotchman (L)
SS Jack Wilson (R)
C Rob Johnson (R)

SP Felix Hernandez (R)
SP Cliff Lee (L)
SP Ryan Rowland-Smith (L)
SP Ian Snell (R)
SP Doug Fister (R)

CL David Aardsma (R)
SU Mark Lowe (R)
SU Sean White (R)
LOOGY Jason Vargas (L)
MR Chad Cordero (R)
SWING Yusmeiro Petit (R)
MOP Brandon League (R)

C Josh Bard (R)
1B Ryan Garko (R)
OF Michael Saunders (L)
OF Eric Byrnes (R)

No comments: