The always diligent Fox Sports duo of Ken Rosenthal and Jon Morosi have chucked yet another log onto the Seattle Mariners piping red Hot Stove.
In their fantastic rumor mill detailing the happenings at baseballs Winter Meetings in Indianapolis, they slid in an interesting tidbit through the middle of their blog stating the Seattle Mariners are interested in relief pitcher Darren Oliver.
That would be the third member of their main division rival, the Anaheim Angels, that has been linked to the Seattle Mariners.
They have already stolen dynamic All Star 3B Chone Figgins away from the Angels with a four year, $36 million dollar contract, with a fifth year vesting option that could add another year at the annual rate.
They are also being heavily linked to Angels ace John Lackey, who is likely going to command a contract in the five year, $82.5 million range the New York Yankees shelled out for AJ Burnett last winter. With the Yankees actually setting a small budget, and negotiations under way with longtime great Andy Pettitte, who could repeat his $11 million in 2009 earnings in a new incentive laden deal, they will likely not be upping the ante on Lackey in any bidding war.
Bottom line is if any bidding war is to occur between the Angels and Mariners for John Lackey, star Left Fielder Jason Bay, Rich Harden, etc. The Mariners are going to be able to outbid them at will. The Angels off-season budget is set at around $12 million, whilst the Mariners have roughly $41 million (including Chone Figgins pending signing), coming off the books from last season. unless the Angels budget is increased, it is not going to be enough to pry Jason Bay from backing the Green Monster, or to keep their ace in Los Angeles.
The news that the Mariners are interested in Oliver actually had me quite intrigued. It is just the patent type of under the radar move Jack Zduriencik likes to sneak by everyone.
Since joining the Angels in 2007, Oliver has quietly been having some impressive campaigns. Over his last three seasons as a reliever he has posted an average stat line of:
59 games, 69.6 innings, 5 Wins, 1 Loss, 3.12 ERA, 62 Hits allowed, 24 Earned Runs, 5 Home Runs allowed, 20 Walks allowed, 55 Strikeouts, and 13 Holds.
For a 39 year old reliever, that's better then solid. Those are good consistent numbers for a set up reliever that could be had at a very reasonable price.
He has a .36 walk to hit ratio, only allows an Earned Run every 2.5 innings pitched, allows a HR once every 14 innings, and his 2009 ERA of 2.71 ranks seventh in the majors.
The even more intriguing possibility is if the Mariners sign Oliver they could dangle reliever Shawn Kelley on the trade market.
Most people following the Winter Meetings know the Seattle Mariners shot down a proposed deal that would have sent Pitchers Brandon Morrow and Shawn Kelley to Detroit for All Star Starting Pitcher Edwin Jackson. Adding Darren Oliver to the fold gives them one of the most underrated set up men in the league to top Closer David Aardsma for a few seasons.
People keep saying the price was too steep for Jackson, I strongly disagree. Morrow and Kelley are mediocre and you can talk about potential, but with so many young upside arms in the Mariners system (Doug Fister, Ian Snell, Ryan Rowland Smith, Luke French, Garrett Olson, Jason Vargas, etc), a trade would not have even dented the Major League roster. It would also have given them a proven All Star starter, despite my disagreement I trust Zduriencik and his so far proven effective strategies as GM and I am not questioning his denial of this trade. Adding Oliver to the mix could potentially see the Mariners enter the Jackson derby once again.
With so much money, it is not out of the realm of possibility the Mariners could sign Darren Oliver and subsequently swing a deal for Edwin Jackson, while also signing John Lackey and Jason Bay on the open market.
Coupled with Figgins $9 million dollar salary, this is how the money would roughly figure out in the above scenario.
Darren Oliver, incentive laden one year contract worth $3 million with a club option.
Edwin Jackson's contract calls for only $2.2 million next season.
John Lackey will likely command around $15 million on the Free Agent market.
Jason Bay will likely command slightly more then Lackeys' $15 million, seemingly because he turned down a four year, $60 million dollar offer from the Red Sox to hit the open market. Lets say it turns out to be $17 million if he was to sign with Seattle.
The total of those five salaries including the all but signed Figgins, turns out to be $49.2 million, a tad below the roughly $50 million that is coming off of the books for Seattle. Couple in what I expect to be a re-signing of the only true power producer in 2009, Russell the Muscle, at around one year, and $4 million, the payroll only slightly increases past what was already a significantly reduced (by around $25 million), 2009 figure. Adding another name like 1B Nick Johnson to the mix at a slightly less figure would be an excellent signing given his career .405 On Base Percentage.
With the successful turnaround from 61 wins to 85 wins with a reduced payroll and other teams castoffs, including impact players Russell Branyan, David Aardsma, and Franklin Gutierrez, the Mariners brain trust will likely not shy away from adding slightly to the payroll figure that can afford to be in the $100+ million range.
While just breaking even on their payroll the Mariners would still have plenty of flexibility to sign ace Felix Hernandez to what is inevitably going to have to be at least the six year, $100 million figure being floated around on the Internet. If you factor in what could plausibly amount to signing Bay, Lackey, Figgins, and co. in addition to the annual $17 million dollar salary Hernandez would receive in the proportions of the above contract, and the Mariners would essentially be breaking even from their reduced 2009 payroll while adding an additional $13 million for Hernandez (current salary stands at $3.8 million), and around $6 million extra from the figures of contracts dolled out to Branyan and Johnson that spill over from the $50 million coming off the books. The overall salary with all of this activity (although I believe they have a chance to sign all of these players if they so choose, I doubt they do it all), would put the 2010 payroll at a similar figure to the 2008 payroll of slightly above $100 million.
The proposed moves and salaries are all names being linked multiple times to the Mariners and the average figures being discussed.
Just fathom the roster if it all panned out, and with all of their money, trade chips, and bargaining power in a weak Free Agent crop, it is very feasible something like this could be done.
Edwin Jackson/Rich Harden
Luke French/Brandon Morrow/Ryan Rowland Smith
Relievers/ Pitching Depth
Luke French/Brandon Morrow/Ryan Rowland Smith
Catcher- Adam Moore/Rob Johnson
First Base- Russell Branyan
Second Base- Jose Lopez
Third Base- Chone Figgins
Shortstop- Jack Wilson
Left Field- Jason Bay
Center Field- Franklin Gutierrez
Right Field- Ichiro
Designated Hitter- Nick Johnson
Main Bench/Role Players
LF Michael Saunders
OF Endy Chavez
OF/INF Dustin Ackley (2008 overall No. 2 pick)
INF Bill Hall
1B/DH Mike Carp
That is an young and incredibly intimidating, formidable, well balanced roster with a resoundingly sound and dynamic core for years to come. Major Leagues most dynamic duo at the top of lineup in Ichiro and Chone Figgins would then be followed by the power of the left-handed Branyan, and right-handed Bay. Scattered in afterwords is 2009 Mariners RBI leader Jose Lopez (95), on base wizard Nick Johnson, and consistent offensive producer Franklin Gutierrez. The offenses only weak link would be SS Jack Wilson, whose dynamic Gold Glove more then makes up for his mediocre offense, and the Catcher position. All of a sudden a lineup full of question marks entering last season now only has two known deficiencies, and even then, you can do worse then Jack Wilson hitting eighth or ninth.
The pitching rotation features baseballs most coveted pitcher, Felix Hernandez (Lincecum would be if he was available and could be ours except Bavasi plucked Morrow), and would contain arguably three No. 1 pitchers. The bullpen would still be anchored by one of the top closers in the league in David Aardsma.
Not only do the Mariners have the potential to sign two more of the top four Free Agents on the market (already grabbed Figgins, considered right behind Bay, Lackey, and Matt Holliday), they have a chance to seriously damage their main competition in the AL West in the process.
Already having grabbed Figgins, stealing Lackey, Oliver, and preventing a Jason Bay signing would be a stun gun to the Angels front office.\
In a thin market, the Mariners do not have to settle for mediocre signings. There are All Stars, true impact players on the market, and the Mariners can gun for any one of them with their budget that rival GM's can only sit and envy. In a poor economy, the Mariners can influence the market at will.
Keep in mind the Mariners also have plenty of valuable trade chips besides Morrow and Kelley in 2B Jose Lopez (depending on the Orlando Hudson rumors, and Branyan), SS Carlos Truinfel, 3B Matt Tuiasosopo, INF Bill Hall, OF Endy Chavez, OF Ryan Langerhans (had a pair of walk off's in 2009) P Mark Lowe, P Garrett Olson, P Carlos Silva (can only cross my fingers and hope and pray). Truinfel and Tuiasosopo could easily start talks that could net them a great, proven Major League player to plug the hole in Left Field, shore up the Catching, strengthen the rotation, or add the much needed effective DH. Shortstop and Third Base appear blocked by Jack Wilson, and Chone Figgins for the time being, so swapping any of the listed INF's would not have a ghastly effect the major league roster. In the Outfield even without a Bay signing the Mariners still have three potential internal options log-jammed in Left Field with Saunders, Chavez, and Langerhans, although the first two are well regarded defensively, only Langerhans can even speak of having anything resembling an effective offense. Signing Bay would also allow them to shop Langerhans and Chavez around on the trade market, keeping the still very raw Saunders in the fourth fielding role. Not attempting to say the Mariners are making the entire roster available, but depending on their activity in the market, they have valuable pieces that could be moved if the right sequence of events came to be.
Zduriencik is not afraid to deal top prospects, evidenced by dealing former No. 3 overall pick C Jeff Clemente as part of the package for Wilson, and talented yet underachieving OF Wladimir Balentien, in his first season.
Whatever he does, he has more power then literally any other General Manager in baseball this off-season, let the wheeling and dealing begin.
In Zduriencik we trust.