Even though the Mariners season isn't yet over, it's time to look ahead to 2007. After all, what else is there to talk about when your team is just playing out the string? The M's have a lot of options in the offseason and a whole host of pieces to move around. There is a glut of young major league hitters in the organization that may develop into a log jam in Tacoma in the coming years.
As for pitching, the M's have many question marks—especially in the starting rotation, with decisions to be made on free agents and young arms in the minor league system. When spring training opens, there will not be much competition for field positions. As it stands, the M's have one outfield spot available and a right-handed designated hitter job up for grabs. In the outfield, Raul Ibanez and Ichiro have two positions locked up; the only question left for those two is where Ichiro will roam: center or right field? If Ichiro plays center field, then the top contenders for the remaining spot are Chris Snelling, Mike Morse, T.J. Bohn or a free agent.
With the M's likely to use their offseason money on starting pitching, the left-handed Australian kamikaze Chris Snelling is the leading candidate. Snelling is a high-energy player who can hit for both power and average. If the team decides to move Ichiro back to right field, that leaves them with two options from within the organization. The first is phenom Adam Jones, who has limitless potential but lacks seasoning, or slick-fielding Jeremy Reed, who has struggled against major league pitching. Then the M's must decide whether or not to continue the platoon with Ben Broussard as the designated hitter against right-handed pitching and have another player hit lefties. If that is the case, look for Mike Morse to emerge in that role.
As for the starting pitching, there are two names inked in for next year - Felix Hernandez and Jarrod Washburn - and three open spots available. The first thing the M's need to do is decide whether to keep Gil Meche...and then they need to go into the offseason looking to shake things up. The Mariners must sign at least one of the big three offseason free agent pitchers - Matsuzaka from Japan, Barry Zito, or local boy Jason Schmidt. Zito is likely to get more money then the team can afford, leaving them with the other two as realistic options. Both players have expressed interest in playing in Seattle, and depending on the budget it is possible that they will both end up in M's uniforms next year. The rest of the staff will be filled out with young players from the farm system, with Jake Woods, Cha Seung Bak and Francisco Cruceta looking like the early favorites.
This team needs to make a huge leap next season or heads will roll. Starting pitching will be the key because the offense, defense and relief corps should all be solid. That said, Mike Hargrove may get fired in the offseason, and Bill Bavasi will be gone if this team doesn't have a winning record in '07.