Mariners: The Exodus Begins

Aaron MeyerCorrespondent INovember 1, 2008

The beauty of an off-season is the sense of renewal, especially in those teams closest to the bottom.

Teams like the Nationals, Padres, and yes, the Mariners all will see an exodus of their veteran talent leaving their clubs to search for money, success, or championships. Some will be seeking all three.

It is an unfortunate by-product of rebuilding that often your best players leave, whether you want them to or not.

Case in point: Raul Ibanez and Willie Bloomquist.

On Friday both exercised their option to test the free agency market, and I have no doubt that both will find a home rather quickly.

Bloomquist is the less sexy of the two prospective free agents, but many Mariners fans (myself included) would argue that he was the true heart of the Mariners during the past few seasons. We watched this little guy play every single position on the field while only getting in the lineup to rest a regular starter or steal a key base. Often I've wondered how he would do with regular time, but at this point the best he can hope for is to be a utility man on a contending team. He is the type of player many baseball pundits will hold up as an example of a small-money player who given the opportunity in the right spot can lift a team to their next level, that sparkplug that energizes all the overpriced and under-motivated talent on a big-market team.

Ibanez is perhaps the most underrated player in the American League for the last 7 years. His average in the last 3 seasons is .290, slugging percentage .480, OBP at .350. He's played at least 149 games each of the past 3 years while hitting nearly 150 balls, at least 20 home runs and knocking in 89-115 RBI's over the same span.

Those are just statistics, and though they are solid, Ibanez's real value comes from his stoicism and leadership, even in the face of so many losses. He never seems rattled, in the field or at the plate, and on the right team will be great protection for a big bat that people tend to pitch around. Oh, and did I mention he's a lefty who can hit lefties (.305 avg versus lefties, better than his .288 avg versus righties)?

Honestly I was disappointed that neither Ibanez nor Jarrod Washburn were moved before the trade deadline this past season. The Mariners were so far out of any race as to make any attempt at winning laughable, and they new Ibanez was going to walk this off-season. There were a number of teams that could have given a 3-4 good prospects for those two players, especially with Washburn having so much post-season experience (not to mention a World Series ring) and both being solid left-handed players, always valuable commodities at the trade deadline.

There was a day not so long ago that the Yankees would have traded most of their triple-A club for Washburn and Ibanez on their team during the home stretch (especially last year, when pitching woes and a lack of clutch hitting doomed the Yankees, making them miss the postseason for the first time in over a decade). Apparently Brian Cashman has a tighter rein on the Steinbrenners than most people thought.

It may be that the Mariners are more resigned to bad play for a long while than many fans thought. They are getting nothing in return for two of their best liked players, and this is most likely just the beginning of the dumpage.

I would expect that if they can get Adrian Beltre, Jarrod Washburn, Carlos Silva, Miguel Batista and Kenji Johjima off their books for a lot of prospects they would consider that a victory. Those 5 players are taking up the largest chunk of money for the least amount of return on the team. If you're going to be bad, you might as well be young and bad.

It won't be easy. All 5 players have big contracts, and in the case of Silva and Johjima, big time left on those contracts. They have little to no trade value because of their salaries and under-performance. It may serve the team best to let them run out as starters this upcoming season and hope they perform well to up their value to a contending team.

Whatever moves are made, this year's Mariners should be completely unrecognizable by the end of the season. And in my opinion, it couldn't happen any quicker.