Seattle Mariner's Roundtable: Free Agents, Ichiro, and the Playoffs
I would first like to thank fellow members and Mariner Community Leaders, Casey Michael and Aaron Meyer for participating in the first Mariners' round table.
Well, the revolution has begun in Seattle, or so we hope. Jack Zduriencik has been hired as the new General Manager replacing an inadequate and ill-informed Bill Bavasi. This past month, Don Wakamatsu, the former Oakland A's bench coach was chosen by the Zudriencik to become the Mariners' new manager. Talk about change.
Wakamatsu and Zduriencik have some questions to answer this offseason. As self-proclaimed experts, we have taken the liberty of posing the tough questions and answering them ourselves.
Please feel free to leave comments concerning our answers or your own opinions, here we go.
Are there any free agents in the current offseason who could potentially come to Seattle, and what impact, if any, will they have?
Kevin Cacabelos: Believe it or not, Griffey just might be the perfect fit for the Mariners. I'm not living in the past or anything, but Griffey could actually be a valuable addition to this Mariners' lineup.
Assuming Ibanez does not return next season, there will be a hole to fill in the outfield, and there is already a hole at the 1B/DH position. Griffey could fill in at either of these positions.
On a whole other note, I would feel much more compelled and excited to go to Mariner Games with my childhood hero playing everyday in a Mariners' uniform.
Casey Michel: The M's won't be looking to pick up the piece to put them over the top, mainly because the top is an Everest-height away and those players typically come with a steep price.
As the charter member of the 100-loss/$100 million payroll club, the M's will be looking to slash payroll, cutting burdensome contracts and avoiding any more Carlos Silva behemoths (not Silva's gut, but his contract).
That being said, there's nothing wrong with picking up a few cheap pieces along the way. Raul Ibanez, a Seattle staple, could take a pay cut to return as DH, and if Willie Bloomquist doesn't demand the moon, there's nothing wrong with bringing back our super-utility man.
Cheap arms are a dime a dozen, and while the M's may be in the bidding for Japan's Junichi Tazawa, there may be better options among the scrap heap: Greg Maddux could thrive, Jason Jennings could rebuild (cheaply!), and is Mark Prior so damaged that he wouldn't take a league minimum?
A first baseman could come in Sean Casey—hello, clubhouse leadership—or maybe Erik Hinske. But on the whole, the 2008-09 off season will not see many FA's roosting in Seattle.
Aaron Meyers: I think the prospect of most free agents is unrealistic at this point for the Mariners. For one, their payroll is massive, and the players they have under contract are under performing and not exactly good trade bait for prospects.
They can reduce their payroll by jettisoning some of the more valuable pieces, like Jarrod Washburn, a dependable lefty who could do a contender very well in the waning years of his deal. Signing more free agents on top of the already bloated payroll is the opposite direction they should be taking.
Finding young talent to develop in the minors for future greatness should be the top priority.
How far out are the Mariners from seriously contending for an A.L. West title? A.L. Pennant? World Series?
Kevin Cacabelos: It certainly won't be next year. However, if Zduriencik plays his cards right, he can have this team competing within five years. The young players are in place to make this team a contender, including the young pitching staff consisting of both Felix Hernandez, Ryan Rowland-Smith, and Brandon Morrow.
Casey Michel: There's nothing to say that Jack Zduriencik's prowess won't propel the Mariners to the 2009 World Series, or that new manager Don Wakamatsu can't channel Connie Mack and push this team to its fullest potential, but, c'mon, let's be realistic.
The Opening Day roster is yet to be set—and Zduriencik may have a few aces up his sleeve—but with the team set as it is, the cellar of the A.L. West will once again be hosting Mariners-themes tea parties.
The starting rotation is still in shambles, our middle infield has more openings than a tennis racket, and neither Kenji Johjima nor Jeff Clement seem to want to be the catcher. The young guys—Clement, Wladimir Balentien, Brandon Morrow, possibly Phillipe Aumont - should make an increased impact, but their progress has not come as expected.
Again, we don't know the final shape of the team—the signs of a new direction are quite promising—but this team will be in for a rough ride in 2009.
Aaron Meyers: History would tell us that it takes a good 3-4 seasons for a massively bad team to return to contention, even for just a division crown.
Considering the other teams in the division with the Mariners, it may even be longer. The Angels are perennial title contender, and with their strong minors system and newly fattened wallets that doesn’t look to change any time soon.
The Oakland A’s have just scored a big pickup in Matt Holliday and have a stacked minor league system that is primed to bring up three potential All-Star pitchers in the next couple of seasons.
The Texas Rangers have even taken strides to be more competitive by spending on pitching and trading for All-Stars left and right.
That leaves the Mariners with the unenviable distinction of having one of the highest payrolls in the division with arguably the least talent.
With Adrian Beltre’s contract coming to a close, and a number of free agent pickups during the Bavasi years expiring in the next two seasons, the Mariners are looking at a rebuilding project of possibly five to six seasons.
The next two will have to be dedicated to shedding the old, useless pieces of the organization and restocking the minors with young talented players. Then after a couple of seasons with those players getting to the pros, it should take another year for them to gel.
The question of Ichiro's future in Seattle has been under constant
scrutiny this past season season. Some claim his lack of leadership, clubhouse
problems, and a cumbersome contract necessitate a departure. Discuss.
Kevin Cacabelos: I'm still not clear which way the front office is going, if they are going to go the rebuilding mode, than Ichiro is expendable.
But I'm a firm believer in that the M's can get this thing moving within five years, a window that would allow Ichiro to thrive and help the Mariners contend once again.
Ichiro is still one of the best lead-off hitters in the game, one of the best defenders, and can steal bases so easy.
Ichiro is not a leader. Well at least not your Presidential, charismatic-type of leader. He's never been the type of guy that other players look up too and expect grand speeches before and after every game. He's naturally a quiet leader who leads by example, i'm content with this type of leadership.
If Ichiro leaves, it might be more painful then when Griffey left for Cincinnati, I'm crossing my fingers for the front office to keep him. Besides, the Ninentdo leadership wouldn't let this guy leave the team, he's just way too valuable on and off the field.
Casey Michel: I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Ichiro isn't going anywhere. The man is part machine, part Wizard, and all success. His hitting is unparalleled—200 hits in eight seasons, averaging .331 at the plate—and he's earned more Gold than Fort Knox in right field.
And on a team that lost 101 games, he (and possibly Felix, although that's only once every five games) is the reason people come to the games.
You'd think his presence on the team would be assured, right? Well, not exactly. His detractors have argued that his presence in a traditionally power-filled position (right field) prohibits the M's from becoming a team of mashers (not that Safeco could ever play a role in the team's makeup...).
They've also cited a disharmonious clubhouse as the reason he needs to leave.
Wait, it's his fault that certain under performers are pettily jealous of a team member actually succeeding? Or are they upset that he actually earns his pay while the rest of the team embarrassingly flounders?
Or are they ticked that Ichiro wants to separate himself from the festering culture of losing that had pervaded the clubhouse? I may not be a psychiatrist, but I'm pressed to say that the violent set threatening to "knock him out" should be shipped out, not Ichiro.
Aaron Meyers: While can not be argued that Ichiro is the biggest star in Seattle sports since Ken Griffey Jr. was traded, his appeal is starting to wane in the minds of many baseball fans in the Emerald City.
His statistical greatness is not in question; he holds the single season hits record (262), an achievement not duplicated for over 60 years.. In addition he is the fastest to reach 1,000 hits in the majors, and has consistently posted a batting average over .300, with over 200 hits, 40 steals, and 100 runs in just about every year in his MLB career.
That being said, it’s always been questionable whether the face of the franchise can be a clubhouse leader while seeming to not speak the same language as his cohorts and coming off as aloof and inaccessible in the dugout. He’s obviously the focus of any piece on Seattle, and that may not play too well in the clubhouse when that face does not do what wins more games: driving in runs.
The fact is, he’s a leadoff hitter with speed and a great glove, which is enough to make me believe he’s a valuable commodity for the team. But he can’t be the best player on the team because he doesn’t show in the stat categories that win games. He doesn’t hit homers, doesn’t drive in runs, and barely scores himself due to the makeup of the team.
His speed is impressive enough that if he tried to steal more often, he’d easily post 50 to 60 steals a year. Despite being one of the best base runners in the league, he doesn’t get into opposing pitchers’ heads, because they know most of the time he won’t go, and it won’t matter if it does because of who bats behind him.
Ichiro will not be playing at the level he’s playing now when the Mariners are good again, and for his own sake as a player I believe a team will give up a ton of talent to get him for a World Series run.
The Chicago Cubs currently have a hole in center field, but may not have the prospects to pull a trade. The Chicago White Sox incidentally also have a hole in center, and may have the prospects to get Ichiro.
There are always a few other teams in the mix, like the Yankees, who will seemingly spend whatever they want, even in this economy. The new GM should be burning up the lines finding a new home for No. 51.
Erik Bedard could very well go down as one of the biggest busts in M's history. Slated to return some time in the middle of 2009, should the Mariners be discussing a possible contract extension with Bedard, or simply let him play out his final year elsewhere?
Kevin Cacabelos: Erik Bedard is a talented pitcher that if signed, could provide long-term stability for a struggling rotation. I am an advocate for resigning Bedard, if the Mariners could afford it.
However, I doubt the front office will be willing to pay the big bucks along with that Bedard isn't really liking Seattle anyways. I want him, but too many barriers are in place to make a resigning possible.
Casey Michel: Erik Bedard...sigh. What a sob story. He comes in without say, is instantly anointed as "ace", proceeds to hide injury for weeks, and finally goes down after braving the elements halfway through the season as fans demand his head (but not his torn labrum). You can't help but feel for the guy.
But baseball is a business, and with the worst trade in Mariners history (thus far) dedicated to a man this broken, the situation is tough. So far, the starting rotation shakes out to Felix, Morrow, Silva, Batista (bleh!), and Rowland-Smith. If (for once) Bedard can come back mid season with healthy mind and body, he could easily oust our Nobel Laureate (Batista) from the line.
Guaranteed? No way. But better than our current options. So here's the plan: Sign him to a one-year extension, heavy on incentives, with a two-year club option, potentially keeping him until 2012. That way, Bedard plays for, effectively, a non-guaranteed, year-to-year contract, contingent on his success and health.
If anyone deserves another shot, it's Bedard. If he's still on the squad next June, let's make sure to give him some support.
Aaron Meyer: It would be fantastic if Bedard came back next year and turned in the performance he was supposed to last year, but the odds are that if he does he will be shipped off for prospects towards the trade deadline.
Lots of teams closer to contention will be looking for a lefty starter with Bedard’s stuff, as the other lefties in the free agent pool are sure to be snatched up for exorbitant amounts by bigger teams during the offseason.
The Yankees would love to land both Bedard and Sabathia, the Cubs may want a lefty to balance out Zambrano and Harden, and you never know who may get into the mix, the Mets, Phillies, Braves, etc., all can use a player like Bedard.
If he’s healthy and decides he wants to play that year. Still, if he isn’t moved I don’t see the Mariners re-upping with him unless his attitude and health improve, if not he’ll walk at the end of the season.
Adrian Beltre may be maligned for not matching his 2004 numbers, but the guy has been a beast on the field, pocketing both Gold Gloves and stat crowns. He's entering the final year of his contract, and his trade value is as high as it's ever been with Seattle.
Should Beltre and the Mariners finally part ways? And if he leaves, who should slide into the M's' hot corner?
Kevin Cacabelos: If there is one single thing Zduriencik should do it is to lock up Adrian Beltre and keep him in a Mariners' uniform. Beltre is by far one of the best third baseman's in the American League and in the Major Leagues for that matter.
Beltre should be a priority over Bedard in this offseason and the next. The combination of his glove and bat are too valuable to give away to any team at this time.
Casey Michel: Beltre is a favorite of mine, so it's much chagrin that I resign to his imminent departure. His trade value has never been higher (he was a FA following his 2004 campaign), and after Mark Teixeira is nipped up, the next-best FA option is (stifling a laugh) Jason Giambi.
The pickings are slim, and Beltre, fresh off a 25/77/.266/Gold Glove campaign, is looking mighty good to the squads lacking third-corner options.
As we turn toward both rebuilding and shedding payroll, it only makes sense that JZ will slough off Beltre—and find a big-payroll club (Giants, perhaps?) willing to take the lion's share of his remaining contract.
As for Beltre's replacement, why not see what Jose Lopez can manage at third? His lateral movement may be slower than a paraplegic snail, so the M's could keep his 17/89/.287 bat while sacrificing his (ahem) defense.
Aaron Meyers: Third base has been a hitting black hole for the Mariners. They have never had a truly great hitter in what has been historically a hot-hitting position in baseball.
Beltre was the guy who was going to buck that trend, coming off of a stellar contract season in Los Angeles, he was going to be that No. 3 hitter who batted close to .300 and knocked in 30 home runs and a hundred RBI’s while playing Gold Glove hot corner, an MVP caliber player.
And once he got the money for that job, he started playing exactly like he did in the previous seasons. Yes he has power, with more than 20 homers in most of his seasons, and can play great third base defense, but he has proved to be impatient at the plate and fallow in the clutch.
While making MVP money he has barely batted above .250, often in spots where he’s expected to move runners over and drive runners in.
He has one of the worst slugging percentages and on-base numbers of any healthy starting third baseman in the American League, and often times seems to dance on the balls of his toes when he’s taking pitches, a sure sign to pitchers that he will swing wildly.
While I love his fieldwork, Beltre cannot stay with the Mariners making the kind of money he’s been getting. If he takes a pay cut, getting a salary closer to his worth as a great defender and so-so slugger, then he can be a valuable piece of the puzzle for a few more years.
But if he goes hog wild and hits 40 homers this year with 100 ribbies, in a contract year, they should let him walk, because we’ve seen the end of that movie, and it’s not a surprise.
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